COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Some rules for Ohio voters are under legal scrutiny as the focus starts shifting toward the fall election.
The perennial presidential battleground is no stranger to election-law challenges. Voting disputes in Ohio seem to appear at the rate of political TV ads as Election Day nears.
“There are always new issues that arise as the election approaches, especially in Ohio, given that we’re a perpetual swing state,” said Dan Tokaji, an Ohio State University law professor.
Here’s a look at several voting issues pending in the courts:
PROVISIONAL AND ABSENTEE BALLOTS
A federal judge began hearing testimony Wednesday over changes to requirements for absentee and provisional ballot.
Advocates for Ohio’s homeless and the state’s Democratic Party claim the 2014 changes create new hurdles for voters, particularly minorities and Democratic-leaning voters. Among other arguments, they allege that numerous ballots are being tossed because of paperwork errors. They say voters lack an opportunity to cure the problems, in violation of their 14th Amendment rights.
The state says the challenged laws are nondiscriminatory and impose minimal burden on voters.
At issue in the updated case are laws that require voters to provide certain identifying information on their absentee ballot envelopes or provisional ballot affirmations, such as their address and date of birth, and the procedures for counting those ballots.
The plaintiffs argue restrictions within the law are equivalent to modern-day literacy tests for voters. However, the state disagrees. “On a purely intuitive level, it is not unreasonable or burdensome to expect voters to provide an address and birthdate when voting,” attorney Zachery Keller wrote in a court filing.
The case is being tried before U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley.
A separate federal lawsuit also challenges rules related to absentee and provisional ballots, along with policies for early voting in the state.
The challenged laws include the elimination of “golden week,” days in which Ohioans could both register and vote at the same time. Also at issue are limitations to in-person, early voting locations. Ohio law restricts each county to one early voting site, regardless of the county’s size and population.
Attorneys for Ohio Democrats claim the burden on voters — particularly African-Americans — outweighs any benefits to the state. But the state’s attorneys claim the voting changes are minor. Plus, they say, Ohio offers many opportunities for its residents to vote.
The case has been in the hands of a federal judge since late December. A ruling could come at any time.
BALLOT ACCESS FOR BLIND VOTERS
A federal judge has set an April trial in a dispute involving the accessibility of paper absentee ballots to blind Ohio voters.
The lawsuit claims blind people and those with certain disabilities are being denied an equal opportunity to independently and privately vote absentee by mail, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Currently, another person must read and mark the paper absentee ballots.
Several blind voters and an advocacy group filed the lawsuit in December. They also claim Secretary of State Jon Husted’s website doesn’t work with software that would improve the site’s accessibility.
Husted’s office says it’s since adjusted its website to make it compatible with such software, an effort that began before the lawsuit was filed.
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