Lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of Ohio and an individual voter challenging a provision of Ohio’s 2023 voter suppression law — House Bill 458 — that imposes strict limitations on who can assist voters with disabilities in returning their completed absentee ballots. The plaintiffs also challenge a related provision that makes it a felony for anyone who is not an election official or mail carrier to “knowingly return” or “possess” an absentee ballot of a voter with a disability unless the individual providing assistance falls within a legally authorized list of relatives.
As the complaint notes, many voters with disabilities cannot rely on a narrow set of family members for assistance and instead “must rely exclusively on in-home caregivers or reside in nursing homes and other full-time care facilities.” However under the challenged provision, voters with disabilities cannot receive assistance from these non-familial individuals “without subjecting them to criminal liability.” The complaint also notes that in failing to define what it means to “possess” or “return” an absentee ballot, the law puts caregivers and others who might otherwise provide assistance at “substantial risk of arbitrary prosecution.”
The plaintiffs contend that the law violates Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, which guarantees that “[a]ny voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write may be given assistance by a person of the voter’s choice” so long as the assistor is not the “the voter’s employer or agent of that employer or officer or agent of the voter’s union.” The plaintiffs also allege that the law violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Lastly, the lawsuit asserts that the challenged provisions are unconstitutionally vague — failing to define “possessing” or “returning” an absentee ballot — in violation of the 14th Amendment. The plaintiffs ask the court to block the enforcement of the statute and to ensure that people beyond the family members enumerated in the law can assist voters with disabilities without threat of prosecution.