Judge Halts Ohio Law That Could Discount Votes

A judge has given Ohio unions a preliminary injunction stopping a new state law that could endanger provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct, even if the cause is poll worker error.

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A federal judge has put the breaks on an Ohio law that threatened to discount thousands of votes in a state that's key to the presidential race. The judge says the law could infringe on the constitutional rights of voters who cast provisional ballots in the wrong precincts because of mistakes by poll workers.

NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: When it comes to voting rights, Ohio is never a simple story. Because of the 2006 law and a court precedent in the state, people who use provisional ballots to vote and who are misdirected to the wrong precinct or make technical errors will have their ballots thrown out, even if the mistakes are the fault of poll workers not the voters.

That's a big deal because Ohio voters in recent elections cast more than 100,000 provisional ballots. In 2008, the state threw out 14,000 of them because of errors. The Service Employees International Union and other groups say that's not fair. They sued to stop enforcement of the law before the November elections.

Today, a federal judge in Ohio agreed. The judge issued a preliminary injunction, ruling the law could disenfranchise thousands of Ohio voters and deprive them of their equal protection and due process rights under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

Ohio State University law professor, Dan Tokaji, says the court ruling could cast a long shadow.

DAN TOKAJI: In a close race, provisional ballots can make the difference between defeat and victory.

JOHNSON: A spokesman for Ohio's Secretary of State told NPR, he respectfully disagrees with the ruling and said the state is likely to appeal. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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