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Court Allows Historic Voting Rights Action to Proceed against Ohio Governor and Secretary of State; Non-Partisan Lawsuit Seeks to Redress Constitutional Defects in the Ohio Elections.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A federal court in Ohio issued a ruling on Friday allowing a historic lawsuit to proceed against Ohio Governor Bob Taft and Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell that seeks to remedy widespread constitutional defects in the way Ohio conducts elections.

The ruling by Chief Judge James G. Carr of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio denied motions by Taft and Blackwell to dismiss the claims of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the League of Women Voters of Toledo-Lucas County, and several Ohio citizens under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the United States Constitution. The court held that if the allegations in plaintiffs' 65 page complaint are true, plaintiffs would prevail on these claims.

The court specifically rejected arguments by the defendants that state officials are not responsible to protect voters' rights in Ohio. The court stated that even "inaction that diminishes the right to vote" may be unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause and that state officials "cannot adopt policies leading to disparate treatment of those voters and thereafter plead 'no control' as a defense." The court held that if the defendants acted with "deliberate indifference" and that indifference resulted in injury to the voters, the state defendants would be in violation of the Due Process Clause. The court dismissed as premature one statutory count under the Help America Vote Act. The court has set the case for trial in June 2006.

"This is an important decision and one that will allow us to continue to work towards our goal of remedying the obstacles and challenges that have regularly disenfranchised thousands of Ohio voters," said Carol Gibson, co-President of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

"We believe the court's decision presents the Governor and Secretary of State with an historic opportunity to work with the plaintiffs here to make Ohio elections a national model for fair, reliable elections," said Linda D. Lalley, co-President of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

The lawsuit does not challenge the results of any past elections. Instead, it seeks to protect the rights of Ohio voters in future elections. Filed originally in federal court in Toledo on July 28, 2005, the complaint chronicles deficiencies over more than three decades, including widespread problems with the voter registration system, the absentee and provisional ballot processes, the training of poll workers, the organization of polling places and precincts, and the allocation of voting machines. The lawsuit seeks to compel the state defendants to carry out their duties to protect the fundamental right to vote in time for the November 2006 general election. The relief sought would require the state defendants to exercise their authority to repair the problems at all stages of the Ohio elections process. This will include removing the burdens that disenfranchise Ohio voters and, as a practical matter, make the ability to vote vary widely from county to county.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the law firms of Proskauer Rose LLP, Arnold & Porter LLP, and Connelly, Jackson & Collier LLP, along with the People For the American Way Foundation, the National Voting Rights Institute, and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.
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Publication:Business Wire
Date:Dec 5, 2005
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