Federal Judge: Supressing Voter Registration Not an Option in Ohio

| Fri Sep. 1, 2006 5:10 PM EDT

As noted yesterday, Sasha Abramsky has a piece up at Mother Jones cataloguing the worst places in America to vote (or even try to). Of Ohio, he writes:

Election activists don't have Florida's Katherine Harris to kick around anymore, but in a system where most states' top election officials are also politicians, there's no shortage of other nominees for worst secretary of state. The current leading candidate must be Ohio's Ken Blackwell, now a Republican candidate for governor, who seems intent on making sure as few Ohioans as possible are registered to vote.

In 2004 Blackwell achieved national notoriety when he announced that his office would accept only voter-registration forms printed on paper of at least 80-pound weight. Blackwell had to back off that requirement, but a slew of other restrictions remain, including one under which door-to-door registration workers must sign in with county officials, and another requiring them to personally mail in the registration forms they collect.

"The constant promulgation of rules and regulations keeps members of the Board of Elections jumping around like cats on a hot tin roof," says Chris Link, executive director of the Ohio ACLU. "And this essentially hurts Democrats. Who is newly registering? People who've just become citizens, young people who've just gotten the right to vote." Meanwhile, Blackwell's office has done nothing to inform voters that come Election Day this year, they will have to bring photo IDs to the polls -- guaranteeing that tens of thousands of mostly Democratic voters will be turned away.

Well, today brings some good news in that regard:

CLEVELAND, Ohio, Sept. 1 /U.S. Newswire/ -- A federal court in Cleveland today blocked enforcement of an Ohio state law enacted earlier this year that would have imposed crippling requirements on voter registration groups. The plaintiffs, civic and religious organizations and voting rights groups that have been working in Ohio through many election cycles without government interference, say that the law had dramatically curtailed their efforts to help eligible voters get on the rolls.

"This is a win for democracy and, coming on the heels of the similar decision in Florida on Monday, the beginning of a national trend of courts rejecting unreasonable barriers to voter registration," stated Wendy Weiser, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and co-counsel to the plaintiffs in both the Ohio and Florida cases.

"This decision and the Florida decision will send a message to states and could help head off comparable voter-suppression statutes in Georgia, New Mexico and Colorado," continued Weiser.

"This is the third time in as many years that a federal judge said "No" to a state's efforts restrict voter registration activities," said Jehmu Greene, Project Vote's National director. "We hope other states learn the lesson that suppressing voter registration is not an option," continued Greene.

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