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Prof Foley (OSU): "The Latest from the Land Of (Election) Litigation"

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Prof Foley (OSU): "The Latest from the Land Of (Election) Litigation"
The Latest from the Land of Litigation

October 22, 2008

Edward B. Foley

Robert M. Duncan/Jones Day Designated Professor of Law; Director, Election Law @ Moritz
Moritz College of Law

Even as Ohio Attorney General (and former Moritz dean) Nancy Rogers attempts to mediate the dispute between Republicans and Secretary of State Brunner over what role if any database mismatches should have in the process for determining the eligibility of voters who have cast absentee ballots, these state officials are confronting the resurrection of a separate lawsuit originally filed in 2006. That lawsuit, entitled Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) v. Brunner, challenges the states voter identification and provisional voting rules. A preliminary injunction hearing in federal district court in Columbus has been scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday).

In 2006, NEOCH got up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which vacated a TRO that the district court had entered to block enforcement of the voter ID rules specifically for absentee voting. Relying on the then-brand new Purcell decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Sixth Circuit majorityit was a split 2-1 decisionsaid that the TRO was unduly disruptive of the voting administration process coming so close to the election and that the interests of any voters harmed by invalid ID laws could be protected adequately by counting their provisional ballots after Election Day. After the case was remanded to the district court, the parties worked out a Consent Order to govern the review of provisional ballots cast in 2006. That order, however, has expired. When Jennifer Brunner replaced Kenneth Blackwell as Secretary of State in 2007, it appeared as if this lawsuitlike many of the others that had been filed in 2006 or even earlierwould be settled. But those settlement negotiations broke down, and now NEOCH has been reactivated.

The NEOCH plaintiffs are specifically asking for a preliminary injunction that would require the Secretary of State to do more to mandate uniform standards for the evaluation of provisional ballots throughout Ohio. In essence, given the Consent Order applicable in 2006, the plaintiffs are asking for something equivalent, or perhaps even more specific in light of evidence that emerged from 2006 concerning variations among Ohios 88 counties in the rates at which they deemed provisional ballots to be eligible for counting. Disclosure: in seeking this preliminary injunction, the plaintiffs cite From Registration to Recounts, a book that my Moritz co-authors (Steve Huefner, Dan Tokaji, and Nate Cemenska) and I wrote. That book discussed some of this variation among counties in the rates at which they disqualified provisional ballots for particular reasons. I am not here expressing any view (one way or the other) on the merits of plaintiffs request for a preliminary injunction, or their use of this or related provisional voting data as part of their legal claim. (I am also not involved in this litigation, apart from this citation to Moritzs scholarly work.)

The Secretary of State and the Attorney General are opposing the request for a preliminary injunction. (For complicated reasons that apparently relate to a dispute between these two offices in 2006, two separate oppositions to the preliminary injunction have been filed.) They say that adequately uniform and specific standards have been put in place for the counting of provisional ballots across Ohio. Therefore, they argue, there is no risk of a Bush v. Gore violation in this counting process.

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