Voting org sues over election law they say discriminates against Ohioans with disabilities< < Back to
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — The League of Women Voters of Ohio and American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday over a provision in a recently effective law they say discriminates against disabled Ohioans.
According to the lawsuit, the Ohio Revised Code only allows authorized individuals to handle absentee ballots on another voter’s behalf, including returning a signed and sealed ballot to a board of elections. Grandchildren, cousins and non-familial caregivers are all excluded from this list—and as of early 2023, could be facing a felony for assisting with absentee voting under House Bill 458.
The bill that significantly changed Ohio’s elections went into effect in April, after passing the legislature during an all-night lame duck session last December. Among other provisions, it mandates that Ohioans present photo ID at the polls and shortens the time they can request and return an absentee ballot. At the time, proponents of the GOP-backed bill said it tightened election security.
But in the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that at least one change violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by “creating an unlawful burden on the right to vote for many people with disabilities.”
Jen Miller, League of Women Voters of Ohio executive director, called the recent law a “double-whammy.”
“We have been hearing about these assistance restrictions for a long time, especially during the pandemic, when lots of grandchildren were running errands for their grandparents, but they could not assist them with voting,” she said. “The challenge is that (HB) 458 increases those criminal penalties to a felony, without assisting with access by allowing common-sense helpers.”
The league reached out to Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office for clarifications and assistance. LaRose deferred the issue to local judicial systems, she said.
“That’s not good enough for us, and it’s at moments like this where we feel as though the courts must intervene on behalf of voters and their caretakers,” Miller said in an interview. Although no one has been actually charged yet, she said the threat could stifle votes among a population that is already facing those hurdles at the ballot box.
A spokesperson for LaRose declined to comment on pending litigation. The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of Ohio, can be ready in its entirety here.