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Published: Friday, 7/7/2006

Suit challenges proposed Blackwell voting rules

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Opponents of new rules governing those paid to register voters wasted little time yesterday following through with their promise to file a federal court challenge.

The rules, drafted by Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell's office, were upheld along a party-line vote by a legislative panel last week.

Yesterday, a coalition of groups - among them Project Vote, the American Association of People with Disabilities, and the Community of Faith Assemblies Church - filed suit in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, challenging the rules and the law on which they were based.

The suit maintains that the rules would unconstitutionally chill political activity by threatening to make felons of those who make innocent mistakes. The suit claims the rules would discriminate against poor and disabled people who may not have access to or can't use computers to complete online training to be certified as paid registrars.

Most opposition has centered on the requirement that the individual compensated to register voters must personally deliver or mail registration cards within 10 days of completion to either the secretary of state's office or the local county board of elections. Cards may not be given to the organization paying the bills for review and subsequent delivery.

"Many workers and volunteers are unwilling to take the risk of assisting people registering to vote if the consequences of them returning voter registration forms to the wrong place could be a felony," reads the suit.

Democrats have accused Mr. Blackwell, Republican candidate for governor, of trying to use his office to suppress voter registration efforts. Blackwell spokesman James Lee said the rules follow the law.

"This is yet another frivolous lawsuit that will further bog down our already overburdened court system," he said.

The case has been assigned to Judge Kathleen O'Malley, a 1994 Clinton appointee who also served from 1992 to 1994 as first assistant and chief of staff for then-Attorney General Lee Fisher. Mr. Fisher is the running mate of Mr. Blackwell's Democratic opponent in the Nov. 7 election, U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland.



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