CINCINNATI – Two federal judges on Monday barred political parties' challengers from polling places throughout Ohio, saying poll workers, not outsiders, should determine voter eligibility. State Republicans planned to appeal.
An order by U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott (search) of Cincinnati found that the application of Ohio's statute allowing challengers at polling places was unconstitutional.
In a similar case, U.S. District Judge John Adams of Akron said poll workers are the ones to determine if voters are eligible.
"In light of these extraordinary circumstances, and the contentious nature of the imminent election, the court cannot and must not turn a blind eye to the substantial likelihood that significant harm will result not only to voters, but also to the voting process itself, if appointed challengers are permitted at the polls," Adams said.
Dlott said the presence of challengers inexperienced in the electoral process questioning voters about their eligibility would impede voting.
In comments made before Adams ruled, Mark Weaver, lawyer for the Ohio Republican Party, called Dlott's ruling erroneous and said the party would ask the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to overturn it.
Dlott ruled on a lawsuit by a black Cincinnati couple who said Republican plans to deploy challengers to largely black precincts in Hamilton County was meant to intimidate and block black voters.
Republicans said they wanted to prevent voter fraud.
Dlott said in her order that the evidence "does not indicate that the presence of additional challengers would serve Ohio's interest in preventing voter fraud better than would the system of election judges."
In a separate case last week, Dlott had temporarily halted election board hearings on challenges. The state GOP had challenged 35,000 registrations because mail to those addresses came back undelivered. Democrats said the GOP was trying to keep poor and minorities, who move more often, from voting, and was targeting new voters registered by political groups supporting Sen. John Kerry.