COLUMBUS—Last night, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, along with partners, filed an amicus brief in the case Ex Rel. Ohio Democratic Party v. Frank LaRose. The case concerns when and how to conduct Ohio’s rescheduled primary election in light of last week’s postponement due to COVID-19. The League and its partners do not take the side of any party in this case, but file this brief to alert the Court and both political parties to two particular matters: the requirement to adjust the voter registration deadline and the need to make voting accessible to all eligible citizens.
“There is no perfect approach to holding an election during a global pandemic, but Ohio must abide by bedrock voter registration laws,” said Jen Miller, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. “Additionally, Ohio should ease the vote-by-mail process, which is cumbersome for seniors, youth, Ohioans with disabilities, and homeless citizens. Protecting public health is critical, but we must also do everything we can to preserve access for all eligible Ohio voters.”
The League is joined by Ohio’s A. Philip Randolph Institute and represented by the ACLU of Ohio, Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights, and Demos. The brief points out that, regardless of what date the primary election is to be held, federal law requires that Ohioans must be permitted to continue to register to vote up to 30 days in advance. Last week, the League of Women Voters and partners sent a letter to the Ohio Secretary of State demanding any new election comply with this requirement of the National Voter Registration Act.
The organizations also caution that the methods of voting in the rescheduled primary, as suggested by the political parties, rely exclusively on an overly narrow vote-by-mail scheme, and point out that reliance on that exclusive option will make voting inaccessible for some communities across the state.
“We cannot allow politics to get in the way of Ohio’s elections. Each person’s vote is sacred and must be counted,” said Andre Washington, Executive Director of Ohio’s A. Philip Randolph Institute. “We must ensure that historically disenfranchised communities are given multiple ways to cast a ballot, and that includes in-person voting.”
“Whether the election date is reset for April 28, May 16, June 2, or some other day due to the coronavirus pandemic, federal law protecting the rights of voters still matters as much as ever,” said Freda Levenson, Legal Director for the ACLU of Ohio. “Eligible Ohioans must be permitted to register to vote up to 30 days prior to the primary. Further, the election must be accessible for all voters. Ohioans must be provided mechanisms beyond the current, narrow vote-by-mail system to participate safely in the upcoming election.”
“In responding to the current public health crisis, our governmental authorities must do everything possible to preserve the fundamentals of our democracy,” said Ezra Rosenberg, Co-Director of the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law. “This means ensuring that, consonant with public safety, every person eligible to vote is provided the fullest possible opportunity to do so. We hope that the positions we lay out in our brief today will guide both the Ohio Supreme Court and Ohio’s elected and appointed officials in reaching that goal in these difficult times
“This public health crisis need not become a crisis for our democracy because when elections move, the protections of the Constitution and our voting rights laws move with them,” said Brenda Wright, Senior Advisory for Legal Strategies at Demos. “Regardless of when Ohio holds its 2020 primary, the state must make voting accessible for all eligible Ohioans, especially Black and brown voters who too often are pushed to the sidelines of our democracy by obstacles such as arbitrary voter registration deadlines or burdensome procedures for voting absentee or at the polls.”
The League of Women Voters of Ohio, along with other voting rights partners, sent a letter to Ohio Secretary State Frank LaRose demanding that changes to the Primary Election calendar comply with the National Voter Registration Act and the Ohio Constitution.
The League joined over 200 organizations supporting an effort led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights urging federal lawmakers and state elections officials to adopt key policies to ensure both the public’s safety and the orderly conduct of the 2020 primary and general elections in light of the current threat posed by COVID-19.