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COLUMBUS, OH (March 19, 2020) – Today, League of Women Voters of Ohio, A. Philip Randolph Institute Ohio, ACLU of Ohio, Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights, and Demos sent a letter to Ohio Secretary State Frank LaRose demanding that changes to the Primary Election calendar comply with the National Voter Registration Act and the Ohio Constitution.

Secretary LaRose’s March 16th directive (2020-06) sets a new voting schedule in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that violates Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act, which requires the deadline for voter registration to be no more than 30 days prior to a federal election. It also violates Article 5, Section 1, of the Ohio Constitution, which allows eligible Ohioans to vote when registered for 30 days before any election.

“It is important that all eligible Ohioans get to exercise their right to vote in this important election,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  “Every other jurisdiction that has felt compelled to move its primary election date because of the current health crisis has recognized that the law requires that people must be allowed to register to vote for up to 30 days before the new election date. There is no reason for Ohio to ignore clear and settled law.”

“Ohio’s A. Philip Randolph Institute is going into battle again to fight to protect voters’ opportunities to register and vote. Every eligible Ohioan deserves to have their voice heard, their vote counted, and their constitutional rights respected,” said Andre Washington, Executive Director of Ohio’s A. Philip Randolph Institute.

“We agree that postponing the election helped protect the health and safety of Ohio voters and poll workers,” stated Jen Miller, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. “Having an accurate, up-to-date registration is the first step for casting a ballot, so voters must be granted the same registration schedule as every other election.”

The directive prohibits Boards of Elections from registering new voters for the extended in-person primary, stating that February 18 would remain the registration deadline. Even if a different date is set through legislative or legal action, the registration date must be 30 days prior. 

“Yes, in many ways we are in uncharted territory.  But neither the global pandemic, nor the fact that the election date is changed, means that we need to devolve into anarchy.  The national and state laws that protect the rights of Ohio voters are still in effect, and must be followed. Under the law, Ohio voters must be permitted to register up until 30 days before a federal election,” said Freda Levenson, Legal Director for the ACLU of Ohio.

“When elections move, the strong protections of the National Voter Registration Act move with them,” said Brenda Wright, Senior Advisor for Legal Strategies at Demos. “That’s critical, because arbitrary voter registration deadlines are a barrier to the ballot for too many voters, especially voters of color.”

A copy of the letter can be found here.