On Halloween, a federal appeals court issued a frightening decision that may cause widespread voter disenfranchisement in Ohio.
At issue: what happens if someone votes in the wrong place because of an error by a poll worker? A district court issued an injunction requiring that those votes be counted. The appeals court, however, stayed the injunction, meaning that thousands of otherwise-valid votes will not be counted.
The decision came despite the fact that the district court’s factual findings showed that poll-worker error results in thousands of wrong-location ballots in Ohio, either because poll workers affirmatively misdirected voters to the wrong polling location, or because poll workers provided voters with ballots for the wrong precinct instead of directing voters to the correct polling location.
Moreover, the appeals court’s decision ignored Ohio election law, which requires poll workers to direct voters to the correct precinct. Specifically, the Ohio code states that:
if, upon review of the precinct voting location guide using the residential street address provided by the individual, an election official at the polling place at which the individual desires to vote determines that the individual is not eligible to vote in that jurisdiction, the election official shall direct the individual to the polling place for the jurisdiction in which the individual appears to be eligible to vote... [emphasis added]
Given the district court’s factual findings and the actual text of Ohio’s voter laws, you might wonder why there was even a challenge to this injunction in the first place and how any court could come to such a conclusion.
Well, the motion to stay the injunction was brought by Ohio’s controversial Republican Secretary of State, Jon Husted, and granted by a three-judge panel of conservative judges, two of whom were appointed by President George W. Bush and one of whom was appointed by President George H.W. Bush.
In short, the decision shows why judges matter, and how past presidents can leave a continuing legacy of voter disenfranchisement.