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Published: Wednesday, 10/6/2004

Suit accuses Blackwell of violating voters' rights


A coalition of civil rights and community organizations, led by the Ohio League of Women Voters, filed a lawsuit yesterday accusing Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell of impeding Ohio voters' constitutional right to vote.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Toledo, comes one week after a similar action was filed by the Ohio Democratic Party. The groups allege that Mr. Blackwell violated federal law by issuing two directives.

Under one directive, poll workers must verify that the address where a voter claims to live is within the precinct where he is voting before a provisional ballot is issued. Provisional ballots are given to voters on Election Day who claim to live within the precinct but whose names do not appear on the list of eligible voters.

The ballots, however, are only counted if the local election board determines the voters were eligible to vote at that location.

A second directive says that a first-time voter who didn't fill out driver's license or Social Security number information on mailed-in registration forms must show a proof of identity before their vote will be accepted.

Sean Grayson, an attorney for the Ohio Voter Protection Coalition that filed the suit, said the two directives violate both the Constitution and the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, passed after the presidential recount battles of 2000. Mr. Grayson said the coalition has moved to consolidate portions of its lawsuit with the Ohio Democratic Party's complaint, which is pending before Judge James Carr.

Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo said a bipartisan committee was formed in 2003 to evaluate the state's laws and procedures. That committee determined that they were consistent with the Help America Vote Act, he added.

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