Ohio Republican Sued for 'Violating Rights of Low-Income Voters'

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Liberal activists are suing Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell -- a Republican who just happens to be running for Ohio governor -- for violating the rights of poor Ohioans by "failing to provide voter registration opportunities in public assistance offices."

The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), also known as the Motor-Voter law, was enacted 13 years ago to encourage voter registration and turnout in elections.

The federal law allows requires the states to provide uniform registration services at motor vehicle agencies, public assistance and disability agencies and through mail-in registration.

Since low-income citizens are less likely to own cars and drive, it's important for them to sign up at public assistance agencies, activists contend.

The lawsuit was brought by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and two women who said that they -- and thousands of other poor people like them -- were never informed of their right to register to vote when they visited state welfare offices.

Barbara Riley, the Director of Ohio's Department of Job and Family Services (DJFS), also is named in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs say that some DJFS offices have failed to register a single person in a two-year period while others have registered only a few people.

"Once again, Ohio officials are breaking the laws they are sworn to uphold, and thousands of Ohioans have lost their right to register to vote as a result," said Lisa Danetz of the National Voting Rights Institute, which is representing the plaintiffs. "The state's disregard for the voting rights of low-income Ohioans is appalling."

In May 2006, lawyers and advocates for the plaintiffs informed Secretary of State Blackwell of Ohio's of the alleged voter registration violations. Blackwell, they said, "responded by denying that the state had any problem with noncompliance, and declined to develop any plan to remedy the longstanding violations."

"Low-income people in Ohio need a voice in government, and they shouldn't have to jump through additional hoops simply to secure their right to register to vote," said Mary Keith, chairwoman of Ohio ACORN, in a news release.

"It is a shame that Blackwell has spent more time suppressing voter registration with unconstitutional regulations than fulfilling his obligation to help people participate in the democratic process," Keith added.

It is commonly assumed that many poor and minority people -- those who visit public assistance offices, for example -- vote for Democrats.

With the midterm elections looming in November, and Democrats eager to regain control of Congress, voter registration -- and voter turnout -- is a key consideration for both parties.

See Earlier Stories:
Ohio Trying to Discourage Voting, New York Times Says (June 7, 2006)
Ohio Secretary of State Asked to Inform Parolees of Right to Vote (Oct. 4, 2004)

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