Ohio’s practices for comparing signatures on submitted absentee ballots to the signatures on ballot applications are unconstitutional and shouldn’t be implemented in the upcoming election, the League of Women Voters said in a lawsuit filed Friday.
The state allows all registered voters to vote by mail, though a voter only receives his or her ballot after first mailing a signed application to local election officials. Voting by mail is expected to spike this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, as voters would rather stay home than risk spreading or catching the illness at the polls.
But each of Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections has its own procedures to compare signatures, to reject ballots, and to offer voters a chance to cure defects in their cast ballot, the League told the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.
The inconsistency from county to county allegedly violates Ohio voters’ freedom of association and their right to the equal protection.
The League wants Judge Michael H. Watson to declare that the counties’ varying policies and procedures are unconstitutional, and to block election officials from using signature comparison to validate ballots until uniform state-wide guidelines exist.
“This lawsuit is a solution in search of a problem that would obliterate Ohio’s safeguards on providing secure, no fault absentee voting to every eligible voter,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said.
The League disagrees, arguing that the election officials who compare signatures aren’t trained in handwriting analysis. Those voters who speak English as a second language are at a higher risk of getting their otherwise-valid ballots rejected because of a perceived mismatch, the group said.
“As always, I’m open to working with these groups to improve Ohio’s processes and technologies related to signature verification, but a lawsuit 67 days before early voting begins is not the solution,” LaRose said.
The Ohio Democratic Party filed a separate challenge to the state’s election laws Friday in state court, arguing that voters should be allowed submit absentee ballot applications by email or fax in addition to traditional mail.
Causes of Action: First and 14th Amendments.
Relief: Declaratory and injunctive relief; costs and attorney’s fees.
Attorneys: The ACLU Foundation, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Covington & Burling LLP represent the plaintiffs.
The case is League of Women Voters of Ohio v. LaRose, S.D. Ohio, No. 20-cv-03843, complaint filed 7/31/20.