Ohio Judge Rules In Favor of Late-Jailed Voters

COLUMBUS, OH – Today, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio issued a summary judgment ordering Ohio to discontinue its practice of disenfranchising eligible voters arrested and held in pre-trial detention in the final days preceding an election. Campaign Legal Center (CLC), Dēmos and the MacArthur Justice Center successfully demonstrated that Ohio’s system was denying eligible voters their First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

“Eligible voters who are arrested and detained pre-trial by the state in the days leading up to an election deserve equal protection from the U.S. Constitution,” said Jonathan Diaz, legal counsel, voting rights at CLC. “A person’s ability to cast a ballot should not be determined by the date of their arrest or their ability to pay bail. Secretary of State Frank LaRose should ensure that all of Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections are prepared to assist all eligible voters who are arrested and held in pretrial detention prior to Election Day to ensure that they can cast a ballot.”

"A person does not lose the right to vote simply by being arrested, and the Court's decision recognizes that a voter in jail receives the same protections as every other voter, and must be treated just like any other voter," said Laura Bishop, voting rights project attorney at MacArthur Justice Center.

“This is a landmark ruling both for voting rights and fairness in the criminal legal system,” said Chiraag Bains, Director of Legal Strategies at Demos. "The court held that our clients and the roughly one thousand eligible voters detained pretrial every election in Ohio cannot be denied their fundamental right to be heard in this democracy. This is a nationwide problem that disproportionately hurts voters of color and low-income voters, who are disproportionately policed, prosecuted, and detained. Every state should take heed of today’s order.”

In October 2018, CLC sent a demand letter to then-Secretary of State Jon Husted informing him of Ohio’s lack of policy concerning late-jailed voters and outlined options the state could pursue to rectify the situation.

After no action was taken by the Secretary of State’s office, CLC and its partners filed suit on behalf of Tommy Ray Mays II, Quinton Nelson, Sr., and all late-jailed voters in Ohio seeking access to the ballot and the ability to exercise their right to vote. In conjunction with the complaint, CLC and its partners also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order to allow individuals who were held in pretrial detention in county jails to exercise their fundamental right to vote by casting an absentee ballot in the 2018 midterm election. That motion was granted and the court issued a temporary restraining order allowing Mays and Nelson to vote on Election Day in 2018.