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Ruling Means Newly Jailed Voters Can Cast Absentee Ballots In Ohio

Ohio I Voted Stickers
John Minchillo
Associated Press

A government watchdog group has won a lawsuit against the Ohio Secretary of State's office, expanding election access to all voters in jail.

In November of 2018, two Ohio voters were jailed before the election, but after the deadline to request an absentee ballot.

The watchdog group Campaign Legal Center argued the state already has an exception to the submission deadline for voters who are hospitalized, and the same opportunity should be offered to people behind bars.

"These voters are eligible to vote, they are innocent until proven guilty," says attorney Jonathan Diaz. "They haven't been convicted of any crime. And the only thing that's keeping them from going to vote on election day is their arrest and detention by the state."

A federal judge agreed with the group, which means those voters will now be able to procure absentee ballots.

In a statement, the Secretary of State's office said, "We are reviewing the ruling to understand its impact on Boards of Elections and determine next steps." 

Diaz believes this won't create much more work for elections and jail officials, because voters already access the ballot from jail.

"If they were in jail already before the regular absentee ballot deadline, many of them submit absentee ballot requests, and the boards of elections travel to the jails to deliver the ballots," Diaz says. "The only thing that's changing now is when exactly that is taking place."

Diaz believes the timing of the decision, just after Tuesday's election, was intentional.

"I think that the judge was obviously aware that elections were going on now in November and wanted to make sure that the Secretary of State and the county boards of elections had enough a sufficient amount of time to implement his order for the next election cycle," he says.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.