U.S. Supreme Court Won’t Hear Ohio Case that Could have Clarified Old Federal Voting Rights Law

On June 19, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless v Husted, 16-1068. The Ohio Democratic Party had been a co-plaintiff along with the Coalition. The case concerns a federal law passed in 1870, 52 USC 10101(a)(2)(B). It says documents enabling someone to vote must be honored even if they contain an error that is not material. That provision is now part of the federal voting rights act.

The legal issue in the Ohio case is who can enforce the law. The issue arose because in 2014, the Ohio legislature passed a law that disqualifies absentee and provisional ballots if any slight error exists in the outer envelope for that ballot. For instance, one of the plaintiffs had her absentee ballot rejected because she made a one-digit error when she listed her social security number. The plaintiffs believe such strict rules violate the federal law, but the Sixth Circuit ruled that no one can enforce the federal law except a government official. By contrast, the Eleventh Circuit had ruled some years ago that anyone can file a lawsuit to enforce the federal law.

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