Cincinnati court rules votes mistakenly cast at wrong precinct table cannot be disqualified


COLUMBUS — Ballots of last resort cast by would-be voters mistakenly directed by poll workers to the wrong precinct table in a multi-precinct voting place cannot be unilaterally disqualified, a federal appeals court ruled today.

The Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction issued by a lower-court judge to prevent Ohio from refusing to count provisional ballot votes cast at the wrong precinct through no apparent fault of the voter.

“The application of [state law] to right-place/wrong-precinct ballots caused by poll-worker error effectively requires voters to have a greater knowledge of their precinct, precinct ballot, and polling place than poll workers," the court ruled. “Absent such omniscience, the State will permanently reject their ballots without an opportunity to cure the situation.

“The mere fact that these voters cast provisional ballots does not justify this additional burden," the ruling added. “As the district court explained, Ohio law now requires 13 different categories of voters to cast provisional ballots, ranging from individuals who do not have an acceptable form of identification to those who requested an absentee ballot or whose signature was deemed by the precinct official not to match the name on the registration forms."

The case was brought by the Service Employees International Union to address issues surrounding the so-called “right church, wrong pew" scenario. The court dismissed the state’s suggestion that such a ruling could lead to voters intentionally voting in the wrong precincts or other voting fraud.

“Barring substantial numbers of recalcitrant voters insisting on casting wrong-precinct votes — again, a phenomenon not supported by the record or logic — the district court’s limited remedy should not burden poll workers with longer lines or tax county boards with an unmanageable number of ballot verifications after election day,’’ the appeals court ruled.