Here is a copy of the electronic mail I sent to Sheriff Simon Leis and the Hamilton County Board of Elections yesterday, September 14, 2012:
I am writing for two reasons.
1. VOTER REGISTRATION - As you know, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (commonly referred to as the "Motor Voter Law") and Ohio law require certain offices and other public entities to provide, in each of its offices or locations, voter registration a...pplications and assistance in the registration of qualified persons. Among the offices required to assist with voter registion are the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and the Department of Jobs & Family Services. Although the jail is not (at least not to my knowledge) specifically required by law to assist with voter registration, it is not prohibited from doing so, and should assist with voter registration. Every person entering the jail has to go through a registration process and speak to a medical professional. Why aren't they being provided with voter registration applications and voter registration assistance?
2. EXERCISING THE RIGHT TO VOTE - I am aware of no law that strips a registered voter of their right to vote merely because they are incarcerated in a local jail. That said, I am concerned that several hundred eligible voters may be locked away in the local jail on election day and denied their right to vote. Unfortunately, it appears that neither the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office nor the Hamilton County Board of Elections (BOE) have made provisions to allow eligible registered voters who are locked up in the jail an opportunity to exercise their right to vote. This is a serious issue!
I have been told that the jail's social workers will help some registered voters obtain absentee ballots. For reasons discussed below, this is not an adequate solution to the problem. I have also been told that there is some plan afoot to set up a single voting booth somewhere inside the jail on election day and allow interested registered voters to vote on that day. The person who gave me this information was unable to point me to anything in writing verifying this plan.
There are numerous problems with the alleged absentee ballot assistance program. An eligible voter must mail their absentee ballot request in enough time for it to be received by the BOE at noon on November 3, 2012. So, if a person gets thrown in jail on Nov 3, 4, 5, or 6, they won't be able to vote by absentee ballot because there is no way for them to mail their absentee ballot request to the BOE and have it be received in time.
Additionally, an eligible voter must know that the absentee ballot assistance is available. Once they know about the assistance, they must seek out someone from social services and wait for them to respond to their request for help. Then, once the social worker responds and provides the Application to Vote Absentee By Mail form, the eligible voter must somehow obtain a stamped envelope to mail the request to the BOE. When a person enters the jail, it takes some days before they have access to money in their account or the ability to purchase stamped envelopes from the commissary service. It also takes days before they can request assistance from a social worker. So, in reality, not only can't a person who gets thrown in jail on Nov 3, 4, 5, or 6, exercise their right to vote, neither can a person who gets thrown in jail days before the election.
Also, if an eligible voter finds themself in jail and they apply to vote absentee by mail and they change their mind (maybe they get released from jail after submitting their absentee ballot request and before election day) and appear at their polling place to vote on election day, according to Ohio's Secretary of State, they will be required to vote a provisional ballot that cannot be counted until at least 10 days after the election. Many people don't believe provisional ballots are ever really counted and they therefore are discouraged from voting using a provisional ballot.
Here's the solution. Unless I've been provided with bad information, the BOE allows anyone to vote in person at the BOE during the early voting period and on election day. Eligible voters who choose to vote at the BOE are not forced to vote a provisional ballot, they are given the real thing. On election day, the BOE should operate a polling location in the jail and at every one of the jail's off-site locations. Every eligible voter, in every section of the jail (including the intake section), and in every one of the jail's off-site locations, should be allowed to exercise their right to vote.
Eligible voters who find themselves incarcerated on election day, should not be denied the right to exercise the vote. I believe the BOE and the Sheriff's Office have a clear legal duty to ensure that eligible voters can exercise their clear legal right to vote. If there is indeed a plan in place to allow eligible voters to cast ballots from jail and off-sites, I now come and ask that in accordance with Ohio's Public Records Act, I be provided with a copy of it. If there is a written plan, policy or procedure to have social workers in the jail assist the incarcerated with absentee ballot applications and voting, I ask to be provided with a copy of that plan.
I look forward to your timely reply. Due to the sensitive nature of this issue and the time it might take to litigate, I ask you to please respond as soon as possible but definitely no later than 3 business days.
Nathaniel Livingston, Jr.