Report: Judge refuses to intervene in Ohio’s absentee-ballot election

Report: Judge refuses to intervene in Ohio’s absentee-ballot election

COLUMBUS, Ohio (FOX19) - Ohio’s absentee-ballot election will continue as envisioned by state lawmakers after a federal judge on Friday declined to step in, according to a report from the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The ACLU of Ohio and other voting-rights groups filed suit last week to challenge the legality of changes made to the state’s primary election due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

H.B. 197 extended absentee voting for the state’s March 17 primary election until April 28.

The bill also got rid of in-person voting for the election except in special circumstances. Rather, postcards will be sent out to all registered voters who have not already voted in the election with instructions on how to obtain absentee-ballot applications.

Absentee-ballot applications are also available online, or voters can call 513.632.7000 to have an application mailed.

According to the lawsuit’s complaint, the changes made to the election run afoul of voter notification and registration requirements, as well as the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, “compounding the current public health crisis into a crisis for democracy in Ohio.”

The plaintiffs describe applying for an absentee ballot as “a cumbersome multi-step, multi-mailing process that will be impossible for elections officials and voters to complete in the time left before the election concludes."

“Ohio has imposed a new set of rules for its 2020 primary election that will disenfranchise voters on a staggering scale as they contend with the COVID-19 pandemic,” the complaint reads.

U.S. District Judge Michael Watson disagreed, saying the complaint fails to show the rights of voters would be disenfranchised enough to override the law, according to the Plain Dealer’s report.

“The Constitution does not require the best plan, just a lawful one,” wrote Watson, as quoted by the Plain Dealer. “As is apparent from the briefing in this lawsuit, every group has a different idea of what the best plan would be. But the Court will not declare the Ohio Legislature’s unanimous bill to be unconstitutional simply because other options may have been better.”

The ACLU of Ohio said in a statement: “We are disappointed in the Court’s decision not to order changes to protect voters from disenfranchisement.”

The statement adds: "Before the bill passed, both Secretary of State LaRose and county Elections Officials warned that April 28 was not a workable date. In our view, they were right then, and they’re still right.

“The state pushed ahead anyway, defended its plan vigorously, and it assured the Court that Ohioans would be able to vote under these conditions. The Court relied on these representations.”

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