COLUMBUS, Ohio – Lawyers for the state and groups that opposed Ohio's voter identification rules claimed victory Wednesday in a settlement that suspends the law for absentee voters and clarifies and expands it for voting in person.
The agreement clears up confusion in key areas and allows more citizens to vote, said Subodh Chandra, one of the lawyers who filed a federal lawsuit challenging the law.
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The plaintiffs, including the Service Employees International Union and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, had argued that county elections boards were disenfranchising voters by inconsistently applying the law.
"We have never contended that a system of voter ID is unconstitutional, but what we have said is, if there is a constitutional system, this isn't it," Chandra said. "This was a train wreck and we have diverted the train from derailment."
The settlement stopped short of declaring any aspect of the law unconstitutional. That prevents further court wrangling from disrupting the election, said Mark Anthony, a spokesman for Attorney General Jim Petro.
"This is a victory for defending a law that's designed to accomplish a good thing — preventing voter fraud — done so in a proper, constitutional way," Anthony said.
The compromise was reached after nearly 13 hours of negotiations that halted a hearing before U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley, who was to address whether people voting during Tuesday's election would be required to show ID.
The settlement expands the number of provisional ballots that will be counted and widens some of the law's definitions. It allows voters who don't have identification to use their Social Security number, a scenario which the law had omitted.
Under the settlement, the definition of government documents that can be used as proof of ID has been expanded to include those from local and county governments, state universities and public community colleges.
Wednesday's negotiations came a day after a Cincinnati-based appeals court ruled that Marbley was wrong last week when he blocked the ID requirement for absentee ballots. A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals expressed frustration at last-minute challenges that disrupt elections and said Marbley should not have intervened after absentee voting had begun.
Marbley said the compromise "brings clarity in areas where there may have been some confusion."
"I applaud these lawyers for ensuring that Ohio voters will not be disenfranchised and that we're going to have an election that is free of confusion, chaos and, perhaps more importantly, fraud," he said.