Sept. 14, 2006 – A federal court last week halted the implementation of an Ohio law regulating groupsâ€™ efforts to register voters, calling the regulations discriminatory and overly burdensome.
The law, which was passed in February, requires paid voter registrars to complete a state-sponsored online training course. Workers would also be compelled to either send voter-registration forms to the state within 10 days or have voters send the applications on their own. Under the new law, workers who fail to comply could be charged with a felony.
Organizations such as Project Vote, the NAACP and the American Association of People with Disabilities sued over the new rules, arguing the requirements make registering voters difficult. Groups say the requirement that either voter-registration workers or the potential voters must send in registration forms interrupts their process. Currently, many organizations collect the forms from voter-registration workers, check them over and then send them on to the state.
US District Court Judge Kathleen McDonald Oâ€™Malley ruled that the training requirements were discriminatory and unfair to poor or elderly workers who may not have access to the Internet.
She also questioned the need for training at all. "There is nothing difficult or complex about the voter registration process," Oâ€™Malley wrote. "The forms are self-explanatory, and as long as someone is sufficiently educated to read and write, it appears they could at least assist someone else in filling out such a form."
Oâ€™Malley also found the mailing requirements burdensome. "Anyone who reasonably tries to help someone register to vote could run afoul of this provision, which carries potential felony criminal charges and penalties," the court order read.
Shaun Tucker, an outreach coordinator for People for the American Way, a plaintiff in the case, said the bill was "disenfranchising people in Ohio. This would be one of the more egregious voter registration rules in any of our states."
Ohio is not alone in monitoring third-party registration drives. Seventeen other states also regulate outreach groups through training, registration procedures and other methods, according to a report released by electionline.org, which monitors election issues.