A permanent injunction issued recently by U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley thankfully put an end to Ohio’s longstanding problem with “right church, wrong pew” ballots, a divisive issue that flared as the 2012 presidential election approached. The judge sent the right signal to lawmakers and elections officials — their top concern should be making sure voters gain access to the polls and ballots get counted.
A temporary order halted in 2012 a particularly misguided part of the state’s elections law that had led to the rejection of tens of thousands of provisional ballots cast in the right polling location but wrong precinct table due to poll worker error. Now permanent, the order means that provisional ballots cast in the right polling location but wrong precinct must be counted unless it is determined that the voter received correct advice, but then went ahead and ignored it.
Ohio’s heavy use of provisional ballots, cast on Election Day if questions arise, then counted later if the ballot can be verified, has proved an invitation to lawsuits in close elections, the legal battles delaying and eroding confidence in election results. Marbley’s permanent injunction means voters who go to the wrong precinct based on bad advice from poll workers will have their votes counted without more legal wrangling.
After a federal appeals court upheld Marbley’s initial order, lawyers for Jon Husted, the Republican secretary of state, wisely decided to quit resisting. The state had argued that Ohio law on rejecting wrong precinct ballots was fair because it affected all voters equally.
Federal lawsuits are far from an ideal mechanism for ensuring fair elections. Ohio law on wrong precinct ballots should have been repaired long before it caused such serious damage — in the form of rejected ballots. Thankfully, the courts have set the state on the right course.