Federal judge rejects Ohio voter registration rules

[JURIST] A federal judge on Friday issued an order directing Ohio voters to ignore threats of criminal penalties on voter registration forms and instructions [PDF text], saying that new state registration rules which took effect in May after the February passage of the controversial HB 3 election reform bill [text] by the Republican-dominated Ohio Legislature may violate the First Amendment and unduly burden efforts to register voters. The rules authorize criminal penalties [Ohio Revised Code s. 3599.11 text] for "knowingly aiding or abetting any person to register in violation of the law," and other specified registration-related conduct, such as failing to submit registration forms by hand or by mail to the local board of elections. Plaintiff voting rights groups supported by Democratic Party legislators argued that the new rules unnecessarily discourage efforts to franchise new voters in violation of First Amendment free speech and association rights, while the state argued that the rules are designed only to deter voting fraud. US District Judge Kathleen O'Malley said she intends to release a full opinion supporting the order next week.

On Monday, a Florida federal judge struck down a voter registration law [JURIST report] adopted by that state's Republican-controlled legislature that imposed steeply scaled fines on organizations and volunteers who failed to submit voter applications within specified time periods. The judge in that case ruled [opinion text PDF] that the law "unconstitutionally discriminates in favor of political parties by excluding them from the definition of 'third party voter registration organization'" and that the law's stiff fines are unconstitutional because they "chill...First Amendment speech and association rights." AP has more.



 

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