For Immediate Release
Voting Rights Groups Warn Prosecutors About Investigating Ohio Voters
Hamilton County Prosecutors’ Baseless Inquiry Could Chill Election Participation
CINCINNATI - The
American Civil Liberties Union and other voting rights groups sent a
letter to Hamilton County Special Prosecutor Michael O'Neill today
urging him to suspend investigations of voters where there is no
specific, credible evidence of fraud. According to news reports,
Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Deters began an
investigation into voters who took advantage of Ohio's five-day window
in which a person may simultaneously register to vote and cast a
ballot. Deters declined to give any specific evidence of voter fraud
that would have triggered an investigation and local elections
officials confirmed they received no reliable reports of voter fraud.
"Conducting an investigation without
evidence isn't just bad police work - it's illegal when it could lead
to lawful voters being intimidated," said Carrie Davis, staff counsel
with the ACLU of Ohio. "It appears that Mr. Deters began his
investigation based only on the fact that these individuals registered
and voted during the September 30 to October 6 overlap window.
Registering and voting are not a basis to undertake an investigation."
Deters issued a public records
request for information on voters who used same-day voting in Hamilton
County, and compared their registration forms with an unknown
government database. He held a press conference on Monday, October 20
claiming that hundreds of the voters either had mismatched information
or could not be found altogether. Additionally, Deters claimed that the
voters did not fulfill an identification requirement because some
presented either the last four digits of their social security number
or Ohio driver's license number rather than a photo ID; however, both
are acceptable under Ohio law. Deters called on the local Board of
Elections to segregate these ballots from others and not count them
immediately on Election Day as planned.
"What is going on here is nothing
more than a partisan witch-hunt. There could be a multitude of reasons
why voter information is inconsistent in the voter registration list
and other databases. The vast majority of these issues are clerical
errors made by elections officials, such as typos or misspellings - and
disenfranchisement by typo is not legal," said Meredith Bell-Platts,
staff counsel with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "Despite this,
officials want to treat these voters as criminals by launching an
investigation and segregating their votes without due cause. This kind
of fishing expedition so close to an election raises serious questions
about this investigation's legitimacy. Ohio officials should be
expanding the right to vote, not denying it."
The Ohio Supreme Court and U.S.
District Court for the Northern District of Ohio ruled on September 29,
2008 that same-day registration and voting during the five-day window
is legal under Ohio law. The U.S. District Court for the Southern
District of Ohio declined to stop the program subsequent to the Ohio
Supreme Court's ruling. The U.S. Appeals Court for the Sixth Circuit
upheld the five-day window as well.
On Monday, Deters stepped aside from
the investigation after various officials questioned his impartiality
because he serves as the Southwest Ohio chair of John McCain's
presidential campaign. Local attorney Michael O'Neill was appointed by
a judge to handle the case. However, Deters did issue a subpoena for
un-redacted personal information on the voters in question.
"Officials have provided no evidence
to support their investigation and to justify accusing innocent voters
of unlawful activity. Federal law protects voters from being
intimidated, even unintentionally, by the actions of others. If voters
believe that simply casting their ballot lawfully will subject them to
investigation by police, it will almost certainly lead to some avoiding
the ballot box," Davis added.
A copy of today's letter is available online at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/gen/
More information about the ACLU
Voting Rights Project's challenges to voter suppression and other
voting rights violations is available online at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/gen/