Republican Secretary of State defied federal election law
Hundreds of thousands of voters likely to benefit from settlement...
By Ernest A. Canning on 12/2/2009, 10:32am PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) has won a substantive victory on behalf of the voters of Ohio --- perhaps hundreds of thousands of them --- via a court case filed in 2006, challenging a number of voter suppression tactics employed by the state's then Sec. of State, J. Kenneth Blackwell (R).

The victory may lead to the enfranchisement of "hundreds of thousands of voting-eligible low-income Ohioans" according to one of the attorneys involved in the case, yet it looks like Fox "News", Matt Drudge, and all of the other Rightwingers may have forgotten to post a thank you note to ACORN this week for their successful battle to strengthen the growth of democracy in the U.S....

In September 2006, ACORN filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging that Blackwell and officials from Ohio's Department of Job and Family Services (DJFS) had systematically violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), which Act, by its express terms, was intended to "increase the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for Federal office," "protect the integrity of the electoral process," and "ensure that accurate and current voter registration rolls are maintained."

Specifically, the lawsuit, Harkless v. Blackwell, which later became, Harkless v. Brunner, alleged Blackwell and officials from the DJFS violated Section 7 of the Act which mandates that state agencies which "provide public assistance" furnish voter registration forms, assist in their preparation and accept completed applications. Per the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal [PDF]:

A 2005 survey conducted by ACORN revealed that only 3 out of 103 people exiting a DJFS office were offered a form asking whether they wanted to register to vote. Between 2002 and 2004, DJFS offices for rural counties with relatively small populations registered far more voters than urban counties with larger populations and more people living at or below the poverty line. In the same time period, DJFS offices in 10 counties failed to register a single voter, DJFS offices in 17 counties registered fewer than 10 voters, and DJFS offices in 32 counties registered fewer than 100 voters.

The suit, initially dismissed by the District Court, was reinstated by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal on Oct. 28, 2008, following ACORN's appeal. The Sixth Circuit decision was issued after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief [PDF] in which it agreed that the District Court decision was unsound.

On Monday, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, issued a press release in which it announced a settlement which their co-counsel, Lisa Danetz, estimates will lead to the registration of "hundreds of thousands of voting-eligible low-income Ohioans".

The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights reported that as a result of the settlement, "the provision of voter registration services will be institutionalized within the office procedures at county DJFS offices, and both the SOS [Secretary of State] and ODJFS will make sure such services are provided."

This will include...

-- A notice of the availability of voter registration and a voter registration application will be integrated within each agency's benefits forms;

--The provision of voter registration, and its details, will be incorporated into the ODJFS statewide computer system used by all frontline caseworkers;

--The state will implement an extensive and regular training program for those employees with voter registration responsibilities;

-- There will be regular reporting and monitoring of important data from the statewide computer system, county boards of elections and county DJFS offices;

-- The SOS will conduct at least 20 unannounced spot checks of local agencies each year;

--Both the SOS and ODJFS will follow up with counties whose local agencies appear not to be providing voter registration services;

--ODJFS will conduct a regular review of voter registration services, using the same mechanisms that it employs to oversee the local provision of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps); and,

To broaden voter registration among low-income residents, the SOS will designate the Department of Veterans Affairs, in its administration of medical services and services for homeless veterans, as a voter registration agency. The SOS will also work with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to encourage voter registration among recently released offenders.

There is an intriguing irony. Where the Right has gone out of its way to smear ACORN, it turns out that it was the government, under the control of a Republican Secretary of State, which had violated U.S. election law.* Where the District Court had based its dismissal, in part, on ACORN's alleged lack of standing because ACORN was not allegedly damaged by Blackwell's violations of federal election law, the Sixth Circuit noted that ACORN had suffered a loss because it was forced to expend funds on voter registration activities that it would not have expended had Blackwell and the DJFS complied with federal election laws; that ACORN's Ohio members were directly injured by those violations.

Still waiting for DRUDGE or Fox "News" to splash the headline. But perhaps it would be unwise for me to hold my breath until they do.

* Note, while Blackwell's and the DJFS's systematic failure to register low income voters is significant, there remains the still unresolved, yet potentially far more serious allegations of a possible link of both Blackwell and Karl Rove to "a classic Man in the Middle' cyber hack" of the 2004 Presidential election in Ohio, an allegation that Rove personally threatened GOP IT Mike Connell if he would not "take the fall," and Connell's mysterious death that followed shortly after Connell was ordered to testify in a deposition on the subject.


Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).

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