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Court blocks Ohio voter match order

The Supreme Court on Friday lifted a federal judge’s order that would have required Ohio election officials to set up new procedures to verify voter registration across the state in the weeks before the Nov. 4 balloting.  The unsigned (“Per Curiam”) order is here.  The order blunts an effort by the Ohio Republican Party to gain access to registration data that would enable it to challenge voters’ eligibility at polling places.

The state GOP had complained that the Ohio Secretary of State had violated her duty, under federal election procedures law, to share with county election boards the lists of voters whose names in a voter registration database do not match data in the state’s drivers’ license files.  The GOP argued that the secretary of state had put a stop to required efforts to pass along the non-matching data so that local election officials could deal with it. Lack of matches could be the basis for challenges to individual voters.

The Supreme Court said it was not expressing any opinion on whether the state official had violated any duty under federal law.  But, it said, it was not persuaded that the federal law gives a private party — like the state GOP — a right to go to court to enforce those provisions in the Help America Vote Act.

Under that act, voters whose eligibility is challenged at the polls may have to file proveisional ballots, which would be counted only if their right to vote had been verified.  Because Democrats have succeeded widely in efforts to register voters, it was generally assumed that such challenges in this election cycle would fall more heavily on that party than on the GOP.  Tens of thousands of registrations might have been put in issue.

The Supreme Court, acting on the case after the Circuit Justice, Justice John Paul Stevens referred the matter to the full bench, not only granted the secretary of state’s plea to stay the federal judge’s temporary restraining order, but actually vacated it, thus removing any legal obligation spelled out in that order.

The Sixth Circuit Court in a 9-6 ruling had refused to stay the order.