Dems sue to block Ohio election reform package

The suit filed by Elias Law Group seeks to stop what it said was an onerous new set of restrictions placed on voters around the state.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

A prominent Democratic law firm is suing to block a sweeping Ohio election and voting reform package signed into law last week by Gov. Mike DeWine (R).

Elias Law Group, the firm run by Democratic attorney Marc Elias, last week filed suit on behalf of Ohio groups representing the homeless, teachers, retirees and union workers to stop what it said was an onerous new set of restrictions placed on voters around the state.

“HB 458 is a sweeping attack on Ohioans’ fundamental right to vote,” partner Abha Khanna said in a statement announcing the suit. “While election fraud is virtually nonexistent in Ohio, voter suppression is, unfortunately, alive and well.”

The measure, approved in the closing days of Ohio’s lame-duck legislative session, will require voters to show identification when they go to the polls. It will end in-person early voting on the Monday before Election Day, redistributing those hours of early voting to other days.

Read more: Voter ID, early voting cuts, drop boxes: What’s in Ohio’s sweeping election reform bill

The law will also end absentee ballot applications a week before Election Day; require absentee ballots to arrive at elections offices four days after an election, rather than the current 10 days; and limit counties to only one absentee ballot drop-box location.

The bill was initially targeted only at ending special elections in August, which some local governments have used to shepherd through bond issues in extremely low-turnout affairs. But it grew to 171 pages as Republican legislators tacked on their favorite provisions in the waning days of session. Eventually, the final measure included a provision limiting curbside voting only to those with physical disabilities.

DeWine had worked to strip some of the most controversial elements out of the bill in the weeks leading up to its passage.

“Elections integrity is a significant concern to Americans on both sides of the aisle across the country,” he said in a statement when he signed the bill last week. “At the same time, I have long believed that Ohio does a good job of administering elections, as we have provided ample opportunities to cast votes while avoiding the problems we have seen in recent federal elections in other states.”

A spokesman for Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), who supported the package of reforms, declined to comment on the ongoing litigation. But in a statement issued when DeWine signed the bill, LaRose said the measure would act to restore confidence in state elections.

“No piece of legislation is a silver-bullet solution, but we are once again showing Ohioans that we take their concerns seriously and are dedicated to continuously improving our elections,” LaRose said.

The suit filed by Elias’s firm alleges the bill places discriminatory burdens on access to the polls by imposing a strict photo identification requirement. The lawsuit also cites provisions that limit a voter’s ability to “cure” provisional or rejected mail ballots, and restrict the mail voting process.

Those provisions “diminish confidence in an electoral system that those in office have co-opted to entrench their positions of power at the expense of voter rights,” the suit alleges.

The suit in Ohio is one of dozens Elias and his allies have filed in recent months against all manner of electoral reforms and changes imposed by Republican legislators. Since December, the group has been involved in lawsuits in Wisconsin, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas, Arizona, Nebraska, Arkansas and Mississippi.