For a while now we've been keeping you informed
of Project Vote's efforts to prevent a repeat of massive voter caging operations that plagued Ohio in the 2004 elections. A controversial series of vague voter challenge laws, passed by the Ohio legislature in 2006, allowed any voter's eligibility to be challenged, without notice, based on nothing more than a single piece of returned, unforwardable mail. This is the same trick
the GOP used to challenge over 35,000 Ohio voters in 2004, when the outcome of the entire presidential election was riding on that state. This transparent voter suppression tactic worked in 2004, and the 2006 laws made it even easier. Project Vote has estimated that, in 2008, voter caging could result in as many as 600,000 eligible voters--mostly low-income Americans, people of color, and youths--being stricken from the Ohio voter rolls without notice or due process.
In cooperation with another organization, Project Vote has been working on the situation for months, urging Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to stand up for Ohioans and put a stop to these partisan practices. On Friday, Secretary Brunner showed that she had heard many of our concerns, and took steps to help protect Ohio voters. To prevent partisan voter-caging operations, Brunner issued a binding directive
to all county election boards, instructing them that parts of the 2006 challenge laws were unconstitutional and stating that granting a residency challenge based only on returned mail violates the National Voter Registration Act. Brunner's directive also advises that voters must be to be given due notice of any challenge before Election Day. Failure to follow these guidelines, Brunner indicated, could result in lawsuits from disenfranchised voters.
According to an AP story, Brunner acknowledges that the 2006 voter challenge laws appeared to have sprung from partisan attempts to challenge voter registrations based on returned mail. "When you line it all up you see a very flawed process that can put many people's rights in jeopardy," Brunner says. "I'm not sure what the motivation was and who drafted it. All I know is it's not likely to stand up in court."
Teresa James, attorney for Project Vote, appreciates Brunner's efforts to protect voters "Particularly in light of the troubling history of voter caging in Ohio," James says, "Secretary Brunner is to be commended for her work on this issue and her concern for Ohio voters. However, there is still work to be done to fully protect the voters from voter caging."
While Brunner's directive makes it clear that residency challenges based solely on returned mail would be denied, we know all too well from history that partisans might file frivolous challenges anyway to intimidate voters and reduce turnout of low-income and minority voters on Election Day. They've used this trick before, and we're working with our allies to make sure they don't get away with it this time. We'll keep you informed as the situation develops, but for now we recognize Secretary Brunner for taking positive steps on this vital issue.