[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday upheld [opinion, PDF] a district court order requiring Ohio's secretary of state to establish a system that allows county elections boards to confirm newly registered voters' eligibility. The court, sitting en banc, vacated a stay [AP report] imposed by a Sixth Circuit panel last week. The temporary restraining order issued by the district court gives Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner [official website] until Friday to furnish county elections officials with lists of prospective voters whose information in state databases contains discrepancies, or to provide the officials with access to the statewide voter registration database so they can resolve the discrepancies. An anti-fraud provision [text] of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) [FEC materials] requires state election and motor vehicles officials to match information between their databases to ensure voter eligibility. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton [official profile] wrote on behalf of the Sixth Circuit majority:
[O]ne of the key obstacles to the Secretarys request for relief is the lack of any affidavit or other factual support for her arguments that altering the relevant computer programs will be difficult or will create material risks to other aspects of the election process. In upholding the district court's October 10 order and its October 17 deadline, it is appropriate to assume what we should always assume in denying interim reliefthat the district court will respond fairly to requests to adjust the TRO if the Secretary offers reasonable bases for doing so.In a statement [text], Brunner said her office would "work with the federal court, even though we believe that the order goes beyond the requirements of HAVA." Robert Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party [party website], called the Sixth Circuit decision "a victory for the integrity of Ohio's election" but noted [press release] that it leaves "little time for election officials to act on questionable registrations." AP has more. The Columbus Dispatch has local coverage.
Last week, the New York Times reported that thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states, including Ohio, had been removed from voter rolls against federal voting law. The Times article found that elections officials had violated HAVA by cross-checking voter rolls with lists from the Social Security Administration before using information from other sources, as required by the statute. Voters and advocacy groups have challenged Ohio elections procedures since the state's pivotal role in the 2004 presidential campaign. Last month, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected GOP challenges [JURIST report] to a directive by Brunner allowing allowing a one-week overlap before the end of voter registration and after the beginning of absentee balloting. Also last month, a federal district judge entered a temporary restraining order allowing observers to be present when absentee voters cast ballots in person, but that order was stayed [opinion, PDF] by a Sixth Circuit panel. The same panel denied the Ohio Republican Party's motion for an injunction requiring that absentee ballots cast by newly registered voters be segregated from other ballots.