Lawsuit Demands “Second Chance” for Counting Cuyahoga Provisional Ballots

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 24, 2004

Contact: Peter Montgomery at People For the American Way Foundation

Email: [email protected]

Phone Number: 202-467-4999

Cleveland – People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) today filed suit in Cuyahoga County appellate district court to ask that the arbitrary rules that have led to the rejection of thousands of provisional ballots in Cuyahoga County be overturned, that provisional ballots improperly rejected be counted, and that certain voters whose provisional ballots were rejected be notified and given a chance to make their votes count. The lawsuit includes several individual voters whose provisional ballots were improperly rejected even though they were registered to vote.

People For the American Way Foundation Vice President and Legal Director Elliot M. Mincberg noted that the rules and other practices had resulted in the rejection of more than 8,000 provisional ballots — one of out three, according to a report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, almost twice as high as the percentage in 2000. The bulk of the rejections came when voters’ names were not found on registration rolls.

Mincberg said the lawsuit asks the county to check the provisional ballots against voter registration cards, not electronic voting lists that are known to contain errors. Additionally, the lawsuit asks that voters who were not notified by poll workers that they were in the wrong precinct and directed to the right precinct be given the opportunity to have their provisional ballots counted, and to make sure their names are on the rolls in time for the next election.

“It’s hard to believe that thousands upon thousands of people in Cuyahoga County were trying to vote without being registered. It doesn’t make sense people would stand in line that long and try so hard to vote,” said Mincberg.

“As shown by what happened to the individuals who have joined the lawsuit, it seems more likely that with the huge crush and enormous backlog of registrations that faced county officials, errors crept into the electronic lists. The problems were compounded by strains on poll workers facing late hours and long lines,” he continued. “While counting these provisional ballots may not affect the outcome of any race on the ballot, these people deserve to have their votes counted, and the problems corrected for the next election.”

The lawsuit also asks the court to strike down capricious rules that led to ballots going uncounted, such as whether appropriate stickers were affixed to the ballot. “Such bureaucratic requirements should not disenfranchise any voter,” said Mincberg.

People For the American Way Foundation, a national civil rights and constitutional liberties organization, is a founding member of the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition, which mobilized more than 25,000 voting rights volunteers to monitor the November elections and help voters overcome obstacles to voting.