Arguments over Ohio’s voting laws will take place tomorrow in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. At issue is whether laws adopted by GOP legislators, including rules for early and in person voting, are constitutional or whether they disenfranchise low income and minority Ohioans.
When Columbus-area resident Gunther Lahm and his wife filled out their absentee ballots in Florida back in 2014, they thought their votes would count. But since that time, they’ve learned those ballots did not count because of a mistake -- a mistake they thought they had corrected.
“My wife mistakenly put our ballots in the wrong envelopes, meaning that my ballot went into her envelope and her ballot went into mine. She realized, after she had sealed them, that she had made a mistake so she hand wrote and corrected everything on each of those outer envelopes except for the date of birth. She forgot to fill out the date of birth,” Lahm said.
Civil rights attorney Subodh Chandra found the Lahms' votes didn’t count when he was researching how different counties handle different situations under Ohio’s law. Chandra found while Franklin County didn’t count the Lahms' ballots, some other counties would have.
And that's not the only situation that Chandra says is handled differently in different counties. Things like whether the zip code is missing, whether the voter writes in cursive or print, whether the street name is missing or incorrect -- all are examples of things that were treated differently at different county boards of elections. Chandra says the bottom line is: Mail-in voting can be a problem for voters, depending on where they live.
“You have to get everything perfect, you know, sort of like a triple lutz at the Olympics to get a gold medal to be able to get your vote counted on the form, the form that accompanies your ballot.”
Chandra, who is representing advocates for the homeless in this federal court case, says the newly passed laws that eliminated some and restricted other early voting opportunities mean Ohio voters are treated differently across the state.
“This idea of uniformity is blown out of the water by the fact that there’s not a uniform application going on across the state. And the idea that we should, therefore, uniformly disenfranchise more people needlessly rather than fewer also doesn’t make any sense.”
Chandra says it’s not just the paper ballots that are the problem. He says the certain methods of voting including early in-person voting, out-of-precinct voting and same-day registration and voting were eliminated or scaled back by state lawmakers and Secretary of State Jon Husted.
Lower court decisions and Chandra say those are options that African Americans use more often than white Ohioans. Chandra maintains intentional discrimination is the reason behind the new laws. And he cites comments made by elections officials to the media or in legal proceedings as proof.
But Husted has repeatedly said the goal of the laws is to make sure all voters in Ohio are treated equally. In a written statement, Matt McClelland, a spokesman for Husted said, “Despite the lies and scare tactics employed by the 'chicken little' crowd, the facts are clear: Voting in Ohio is easy and fair. We vote for a month in Ohio, they vote for one day in Hillary Clinton's New York; he should go sue them and stop wasting Ohio tax dollars.”
Ohio’s voting procedures could be under a brighter light this year given what Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said earlier this week.
He thought the vote in the Buckeye State would be "rigged" in favor of his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Husted is a Republican as is every other major office holder in the state except for a Supreme Court justice and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.
The new laws under question in this case were passed by a Republican-dominated legislature and signed into law by a Republican governor.