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New Voters Under Siege: Ohio Exemplifies National Voting Rights Issues

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Cross-posted at Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

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By Erin Ferns

For those of us who believe that democracy works best when all eligible citizens participate, the influx of new voters makes for an exciting presidential election year. Of course, with the excitement and high expectations of turnout comes controversy and partisan resistance to the new crop of voters.

Battles over accommodating, verifying and counting these new voters are plaguing states across the country with everything from partisan initiated voter caging plans to statewide practices of voter purges, as outlined in Wired this week.

One key battleground state, Ohio, exemplifies the various issues many new voters face across the country this year. In the last few months, the GOP has been generating a perfect storm in Ohio, the state that has been called the "new Florida" for the 2008 presidential election.

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Bucking her largely partisan opponents over issues such as voter caging, voter list maintenance, and Same Day Registration, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has taken commendable action to defend Ohio voters by issuing directives and halting voter suppression tactics, but in Ohio and other states the legal battles over voting rights seem to escalate daily in these few weeks before the election.

The Legal Battle Over HAVA Matching

Under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, states are required to consolidate voters into one statewide database. However, "the federal law, for the most part, doesn't tell states what to do" when voters' information doesn't match government databases, Wired reports. "In most states, voters who are labeled 'mismatches' or 'nonmatches' are still added to the registration list and can cast ballots. But this isn't the case everywhere."

Late last week, the Supreme Court sided with Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner in a dispute with the GOP over about 200,0000 of this year's 660,000 newly voter registered voters, according to the Associated Press Friday.

Evaluating what Brunner called an "illegal challenge on the part of the Republicans," the justices overruled a federal appeals court that ordered Brunner to "do more to help counties verify voter eligibility" by "providing local officials with names of newly registered voters whose driver's license numbers or Social Security numbers on voter registration forms don't match records in other government databases."

The justices would not comment on whether Ohio is complying with HAVA, but did grant Brunner's request "because it appears that the law does not allow private entities, like the Ohio GOP, to file suit to enforce the provision of the law at issue."

"Ohio Republicans contended the information for counties would help prevent fraud. Brunner said the GOP is trying to disenfranchise voters," the AP reported.

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While the GOP claims that the mismatched voter registrations are subject to voter fraud, the Republican Party's court filings have "not produced any specific evidence of voting fraud, only unsubstantiated reports that voters from other states had cast fraudulent ballots during the early voting period," according to the AP.

"I think it's an unfair tactic to subject voters to this kind of uncertainty and anxiety this close to such an important election," said Brunner, who attributed the mismatches to "innocent clerical errors rather than fraud"

Still, the state Republican Party is prepared to use the unsubstantiated allegation of voter fraud as a protection against a close election (a "long term Republican strategy" cited last week by election law attorney, Rick Hasen in an NPR report): "If we have a close election in Ohio and there's any doubts, the failures will be laid right at [Brunner's] doorstep," said Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett .

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Project Vote is the leading technical assistance and direct service provider to the civic participation community. Since its founding in 1982, Project Vote has provided professional training, management, evaluation (more...)
 

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