Subodh Chandra Explains Voter Rights and Rules and Calls for Vigilance
The following is a message from Subodh Chandra, the Cleveland attorney and former attorney general candidate, who has worked incredibly hard this year to protect Ohioans from unconstitutional vote suppression efforts by the GOP:
As you may know, the last few months, I have worked with distinguished co-counsel on two successful lawsuits against Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell to protect Ohioans' right to vote. I say this with more regret than pride. In 2006, such litigation should not be necessary anywhere in America.
But it is in Ohio.
I am writing to share the results of those court battles and to invite you to a candlelight vigil to celebrate the victories and express our collective resolve to fulfill our right and responsibility to vote. Most importantly, I am writing to share what you and your friends now need to know before voting and to ensure that others' right to vote is protected.
We won back the right to vote for those that the State of Ohio's General Assembly, Governor, and Secretary of State disenfranchised.
Pamela Denton, now a Clevelander, grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. She is a graduate of Spelman College. Her cousin was one of the four girls killed in the 1963 bombing of the Birmingham church during the Civil Rights Movement. Pamela felt the blast that killed her cousin. Voting is important to her. She has voted almost every election year since she turned 18. For her it is a critical part of carrying on her parents' and Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy.
Ms. Denton is now homeless. When the General Assembly and the Governor this year enacted a new law requiring certain forms of identification for voting—belying America 's promise that rich or poor, we are all equal under the law—they left Pamela Denton and thousands like her out. She has none of the forms of identification listed in the statutes, like an unexpired driver's license, a utility bill, or a bank statement. She has only her social-security number.
And so, she would not have been able to vote on Election Day. Now she will be able to because a federal court ordered it after 13 hours of negotiations. Ms. Denton sat in stoic vigil throughout, ready to testify. Her refusal to be disenfranchised should inspire us all to not take our own right to vote for granted. Indeed, it should inspire all of us to view voting not just as a right but a solemn responsibility.
The consent order that the plaintiffs (the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Service Employees International Union Local 1199) received against Secretary of State Blackwell won back the right to vote not only for Pamela and other poor people, but for countless others—including college students and the elderly. Now, under the consent order, and long as voters have the last four digits of their social-security number, they will at least be able to vote provisionally.
And the consent order also requires that those provisional votes, and many others that were in limbo, be counted. Thousands of absentee ballots that were in doubt because county boards of elections were confusedly and inconsistently applying the voter-ID requirements should now be counted.
Henry Eckhart's absentee vote was at risk. The Columbus lawyer and longtime public servant voted for 52 years without any issues. This fall, Mr. Eckhart, like many others trying to deal with the new law, wrote down on his absentee-ballot form the larger, more prominent number over the photograph on his driver's license rather than the smaller driver's license number. After voting began, some counties decided they were going to honor ballots like his; others were not. Mid-election, Secretary of State Blackwell issued a directive that all such ballots, and countless others cast under the clould of electoral confusion, not be counted.
Now, under the court's order, those votes will be counted. But the order is more complicated than it needed to be because the Secretary of State and Attorney General insisted that it contain confusing statutory language instead of being in plain English. So, as I will explain below, it requires you to be vigilant about whether poll workers and boards of elections are following it.
We protected naturalized citizens from discrimination at the polls.
In another case earlier this fall, I co-represented a number organizations and individuals who sued Secretary of State Blackwell to prevent enforcement of a new Ohio law that would have let poll workers demand that naturalized citizens produce their certificates of naturalization at the polls before being given a regular ballot. Never mind that naturalized citizens do not carry around the cumbersome document or that many have long since lost it. Never mind that replacing it costs $220 (we outlawed poll taxes a long time ago) and takes over a year. Never mind that the Supreme Court has said that we do not have second-class citizenship in this country and that our Constitution requires that native-born and naturalized citizens be treated equally, except for eligibility to the presidency.
Those who courageously stood up for their right to vote without being treated like second-class citizens included the Federation of India Community Associations of Greater Cleveland and former Ohio First Lady Dagmar Celeste, among many others.
The federal judge in the case declared the law unconstitutional and said, "There can be no second-class citizenship as far as any court is concerned. Without naturalized citizens, there would be no America. If this is how the State of Ohio thanks them, then it should reconsider." (We should all call out and hold up to shame the names of those responsible for this law, including State Representative Kevin Dewine, the second cousin of U.S. Senator Mike Dewine, who sponsored it; and Governor Taft, who signed it.)
Now we need you to protect the right to vote and have every vote count.
On November 7, we need to stand vigilant to ensure that poll workers know what the rules are and that no legitimate voter is turned away from the polls. In the days that follow, we need to ensure that all legitimate votes, including provisional ballots, count.
Regardless of whether or not you can join us for the candlelight vigil, please read the linked document that summarizes the voter-ID rules after the federal order, and forward this email to as many people as you can so that they know the rules as well.
If anyone becomes aware that voters are being turned away, asked to return with "proper" ID (under the consent order, the last four digits of the social-security number is now enough to get a provisional ballot that will be counted), or that provisional votes are not being counted, then please call: 1-888-DEM-VOTE.