Judge Rules Against Ohio Polling Place Challenges
Judge Rules Against Ohio Polling Place Challenges (The Omaha Channel)
A federal court judge has ruled that partisan challengers at Ohio polling locations is unconstitutional. The judge was asked to stop more than 3,000 Republicans who are planning to monitor polling places and challenge voters. U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott found that the presence of challengers inexperienced in the electoral process would impede voting. Meanwhile, a lawyer for the Ohio Republican Party said the GOP will appeal a judge’s ruling barring observers from all Ohio polling places. Attorney Mark Weaver said the party plans to file an appeal with the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati within the next few hours.
Dlott ruled that application of Ohio’s statute allowing challengers at polling places is unconstitutional. Dlott ruled on a lawsuit by a black Cincinnati couple who said Republican plans to deploy challengers to largely black precincts in Hamilton County was meant to intimidate and block black voters. Two civil rights activists asked Dlott to issue an emergency restraining order barring partisan challengers from polling stations in all 88 Ohio counties. The attorneys said the Republican challengers intend to intimidate newly registered black voters. Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell issued a statement saying those challengers could disrupt the voting. Ohio law allows people to challenge a voter to prove they are eligible. Ohio’s Assistant Attorney General Rick Coglianese argued that the law is not aimed at black voters and does not violate their civil rights.
Judge Dlott worked through the night drafting her decision. She is the same judge who stopped boards of elections statewide from conducting Republican Party initiated voter eligibility hearings.
This ruling strikes me as odd. Indeed, every time I’ve voted, there have been election observers from the two political parties. There’s no better way that I can think of to assure people that there is no misconduct taking place in heavily partisan precincts. That said, I could see where having hordes of challengers could disrupt the process.
This is yet another case, though, where the legislature is a more legitimate body to make decisions on such issues than the courts. The advantage of having the legislature make these choices–as they had already done by passing the statute, signed by the governor–is that they are made a priori. When judges get involved, by definition, a specific case in controversy exists and there is therefore knowledge of which party a specific application of a rule will advantage. In this case, a single political appointee has made two crucial judgments that may call the most heated state contest into question. That’s not good for a democratic system.
UPDATE (2112): Judge Reversed: Ohio Challenges Restored