A judge's suspension of Ohio's new identification requirements for absentee ballots was placed on hold by a federal appeals court, meaning early voters must continue to provide proof of their ID.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted Sunday a request by state Attorney General Jim Petro to stay an earlier order in a lower court. U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley made his ruling Thursday in a lawsuit challenging Ohio's new voter ID law, which requires all voters to show proof of identification when casting a ballot.
"The attorney general is very pleased that he was successful in stopping the federal court from interfering in state election procedure," said Petro spokesman Mark Anthony.
"We want to make sure no voter is disenfranchised, so we want to work with the plaintiffs to identify ways we can guarantee a smooth election while, at the same time, protecting against voter fraud," Anthony said.
Subodh Chandra, a lawyer representing the labor and poverty groups who filed the initial lawsuit, said he planned to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.
"This ruling creates even more chaos and confusion for voters and boards of election across Ohio," he said. "(Many) people who voted without a problem suddenly don't get to vote anymore, their votes won't be counted."
Chandra said the ruling means a directive issued by Secretary of State Ken Blackwell prior to Marbley's ruling will now be in effect. He said the directive is problematic for several reasons and rules out various potential forms of identification that absentee voters have used when requesting a ballot.
"We have created the most restrictive imaginable requirement that's so confusing even the secretary of state can't get it right," Chandra said. "This order puts at risk tens of thousands of votes across Ohio."
The circuit court said it would issue an opinion on its ruling but gave no date for its release.
Chandra represents the Service Employees International Union Local 1199 and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, which filed the lawsuit against Blackwell last week, arguing that Ohio's 88 counties are using different requirements for acceptable identification, such as military identification, driver's licenses and Social Security cards.
Blackwell, the Republican candidate for governor, did not want to challenge Marbley's decision, James Lee, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office, said last week. Petro, whose staff is representing Blackwell in court, went ahead anyway. A message seeking comment on the ruling was left for Lee on Sunday night.
Ballot booth IDs still to be addressed
Petro also sought to intervene in the larger issue of whether ID provisions will be applied for voters who go to the polls Nov. 7, which the court will address Wednesday.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said in a statement that he's "hopeful that this court will do the right thing and allow evidence of voter disenfranchisement to be shown next Wednesday in front of the District Court."
"The only real solution is to throw out the voter ID requirements for this election," he said.
It's unclear how many absentee ballots have been cast since early voting began Oct. 3. None were scheduled to be counted before Election Day.
Marbley, in suspending the voter ID requirement Thursday, ordered county boards of elections to preserve the ballots, and the appellate court upheld that provision of the ruling.