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Friday, November 30, 2007

Ohio Voter Rights Lawsuit: U.S. Justice Dept. Now Says Blackwell Ignored Law

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- The Bush Administration has now intervened on the side of thousands of low-income Ohioans in a 14-month-old federal voting rights lawsuit. It contends former GOP officials -- including ex-Secretary of State Ken Blackwell -- ignored a 1993 law intended to boost voter turnout. The law requires state public welfare offices to act as voter registration centers.

A friend-of-the-court-brief submitted to a federal appeals court in Ohio by the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division asserts Blackwell had a clear duty to ensure voter registration opportunities were available. "Because the secretary of state is 'responsible for coordination of state responsibilities' under the NVRA (National Voter Registration Act), 42 U.S.C. 1973gg-8, the secretary is therefore liable for, at a minimum, coordinating the efforts . . . to come into compliance with the NVRA. The district court thus erred in dismissing the secretary of state as a party."

The brief is not available online, but is open for public inspection at the federal courthouse in Cincinnati.

A federal judge in Cleveland ruled in August that Blackwell and other state officials had no role in the case and tossed it out of court. Blackwell was the 2006 Republican nominee for govenor, a race he lost to Ted Strickland. Blackwell also was on the 2004 Bush-Cheney presidential campaign steering committee, a post that critics saw as conflicting with his duties as secretary of state and Ohio top elections official.

The NVRA is a 1993 federal law enacted to encourage voter registration and turnout in elections. It is commonly known at the Motor-Voter law because its says Americans can register when they get licenses or tags. They also can register as voters in state public assistance offices. The lawsuit claims Blackwell and former State Jobs and Family Services Director Barbara Reily failed miserably at enforcing those requirements.

The Justice Department's 19-page brief was filed earlier this month in the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. A federal judge in Cleveland dismissed the lawsuit on Aug. 9, 2007, saying that Blackwell and Reily had no liability because county officials control public assistances offices in Ohio. The alleged violations took place between 2002 and 2006.

Federal lawyers contend state officials cannot avoid "responsibilities under the NVRA (National Voter Rights Act) by delegating certain tasks to its local offices. This conclusion is underscored by the fact that, in enacting the NVRA, Congress is presumed to have known that states have ultimate responsibility for adminsitering many public assistance programs.

They said to state officials cannot claim local control "as a shield to avoid compliance with duties imposed by the NVRA. A contrary ruling, if advanced to its logical conclusion, wuld allow designated statewide agencies to avoid their NVRA obligations through delegation and decentralization -- a result Congress could not have intended."

The caption on the appeals court case is Carrie Harkless, et al v. Jennifer Brunner, et al. Nos. 07-3829, 074165. Brunner, a Democrat, became Ohio's secretary of state in January after Blackwell left office. The alleged violations took place during the years Blackwell was in office.


  1. Bill,
    You should ask Gretchen Quinn about this. She was the staff attorney working for Blackwell who was responsible for reporting compliance with NRVA. Quinn is still at the secretary of state's office working for Brunner.

  2. Hi Anon --

    Thanks. I wonder how free Gretchen would be to speak since she was a staff attorney -- perhaps the privelege applies. I suspect it does apply.

    But I do wonder if Sec'y Brunner has pushed to increase the opportunities to register in places where public assistance programs and clients interact. I would expect and hope that she has, and that counties are being pushed to be more aggressive in signing up voters at the welfare, community action agency offices, Head Start, Medicaid etc. Voting is so fundamental to our democracy, and the opportunity needs to be made widely available. Just my opinion.

  3. Oops --

    Sorry about the error in "privilege."

  4. Bob Fitrakis has been touching on this theme for quite a while. But the self-named "big boi" (Bryan Clark) and other supposed big boys at the Ohio Democratic Party Headquarters (Denny White, Chris Redfern, Brian Rothenberg and Todd Hoffman) have been trying to ignore and muzzle Fitrakis.

    So, together with Cliff Arnebeck, Fitrakis set out to file a few lawsuits. The result was ignorant ridicule and belittlement and subsequent neglect by the headline front page blog posters of the bashin' and bannin' klan, including BS Blog, Plunder_DUMB, Pho's MommyDaddy Pages, PsychoBilly Dem, Jill Miller Zimon's enable into dysfunction country clubbers, George Nemeth's blogapalooza band blowouts and the lefty Ohiosphere's own mega-loudmouth... the ever famous sex offender Tim Russo (who was recently asked by Jerid to be interim headliner front pager at the BS Blog as we speak)

    It was difficult for Fitrakis and Arnebeck to get a word in edgewise, with all the Meet the Boneheads blogapalooza commotion and lie and earn Hoffmanesque propaganda, let alone "bashin' and bannin' klan" goings-on.

    Regardless, as editor of the Free Press, Bob Fitrakis did what he could to make sure vital information regarding the NRVA Motor Voter Act got out to whomever he could get it out to. Here's a couple stories Fitrakis publishedas editor of the Free Press:

    Also, Fitrakis ran for Governor as an independent candidate endorsed by the Green Party. Fitrakis neither did this with expectations of winning nor any plan to take votes away from Ted Strickland. Instead, Fitrakis simply wanted the ability to get voting and elections issues into the political dialogue because BOTH Strickland and Blackwell were ignoring and neglecting these issues.

    Currently, Mark Dann and Jennifer Brunner are sluffing off of their sworn duties to protect Ohio's elections as Attorney General and Secretary of State respectively. Democracy as we knew it has been fading into a distant memory and it's appalling that so few people seem to care or even report about it in the media accurately.

    Thank you Bill, for bringing-up this too often neglected, but important, topic.

  5. Bill,

    Quinn's reports on NVRA are public records. You should ask for the compliance statements she has sent to the Justice Department since '93. Privilege doesn't apply to government staff attorneys like Quinn - you know that Bill. Also, I believe the Justice Department has to accept the statements and affirm compliance if warranted. Check it out.