The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently ruled that the Ohio board of elections must count provisional ballots with errors caused by poll workers. The appeal arose out of a suit by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless filed in 2006 regarding Ohio’s then-new voter identification laws—specifically, whether Ohio must count ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

In Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless v. State of Ohio (12-4069), the Sixth Circuit was tasked with examining the acceptability of ballots cast in the wrong precinct due to poll-worker error. The order is centered around questions of equal protection and due process, and the analysis begins by noting the “special protection for the fundamental right of voting” afforded by the Constitution. (Order, p. 16.)

Notably, the court specified that under the State’s reading of the Ohio statutes regarding right-place/wrong-precinct ballots, such ballots “caused by poll-worker error effectively requires voters to have a greater knowledge of their precinct, precinct ballot, and polling place than poll workers. Absent such omniscience, the State will permanently reject their ballots without an opportunity to cure the situation.” (Order, p. 21.)

Being a circuit court opinion, it goes into far more depth on the analyses of equal protection and due process, which is worth reading. The court affirmed the district court’s reading of the wrong-precinct remedy and remanded the case to district court to work out the remedies.


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