Attorney General Schwalb Leads Coalition Opposing Law That Would Disenfranchise Voters With Disabilities

Ohio Law Criminalizes Helping Others Return Absentee Ballots

WASHINGTON, DC – Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb led a coalition of seven attorneys general in filing a brief in League of Women Voters of Ohio v. LaRose opposing an Ohio law that makes it a crime, in most situations, to help others return absentee ballots. The law makes it a felony to return or possess another voter’s absentee ballot unless you are a postal worker or one of a narrow set of family members, which would make it more difficult for millions of people—especially those with disabilities—to vote.

The attorneys general are supporting a challenge to the law filed by a voting rights organization and an Ohio voter with a degenerative disease, who allege that these restrictions violate multiple legal protections for voters with disabilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Voting Rights Act. The attorneys general argue that the Ohio law should be struck down because it harms voters with disabilities, is out of step with most states and with federal law, and does little to nothing to increase election security.

“Every eligible voter who wants to vote should be able to do sofull stop. Ohio’s law violates this fundamental democratic principle by creating unnecessary obstacles that will make it harder for millions of people to cast a ballotand disproportionately harms voters with disabilities,” said Attorney General Schwalb. “This law does nothing to improve election security and instead is simply un-democratic and un-American.”

In the brief, the coalition of Attorneys General argues that the law:

  • Harms voters with disabilities: By limiting who can return a voter’s ballot, Ohio’s law makes it more difficult for anyone to vote—but the law will affect voters with disabilities the most. Disabled individuals who do vote frequently report receiving help from individuals who would no longer qualify to provide assistance under Ohio’s law. In a US Election Commission Survey, disabled voters who required assistance returning ballots in 2022 reported that 20.6% were helped by a friend or neighbor, 11.3% were helped by a non-family roommate, and 13.8% used another, unclassified person for assistance (this could include home health aides or volunteers). Under Ohio’s law, all of these voters would be disenfranchised.
  • Is out of step with nearly every other state: Ohio’s law is one of the most inflexible absentee voting laws in the country. The law makes it a fourth-degree felony to return or possess another voter’s ballot unless they are a postal worker or an “authorized relative” of that voter—which is limited to a specific, narrow list of people. Many states allow any absentee voter to designate another adult of their choice to return their ballot, within certain other limits. For example, Texas and Iowa, which narrowly limit who can return absentee ballots, have carve-outs that provide more options for disabled voters.
  • Creates obstacles to voting and does not improve election security: Absentee voting—like all voting—is rarely fraudulent, and states have many options to protect election integrity without creating discriminatory obstacles to casting a ballot. A recent analysis documented only 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud from 2000 to 2012 among billions of ballots cast across the US. Voter fraud is not more prevalent in states that impose fewer ballot-collection restrictions. And criminal and civil penalties already exist to deter and punish voter fraud.

A copy of the brief is available here.   

Attorney General Schwalb was joined in filing this brief by the attorneys general of Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York.

Caroline S. Van Zile, Ashwin P. Phatak, and Sean Frazzette handled this matter for the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia.

OAG’s Work to Protect Voting Rights
Attorney General Schwalb is committed to protecting the right to vote for DC residents and voters nationwide. He has worked to oppose efforts by Congress to overturn or undermine the will of District voters and their elected legislators and advocates against policies that limit the right to vote and undermine the democratic process. Under his leadership, OAG recently led a multi-state coalition to protect critical anti-discrimination provisions of the Voting Rights Act from a challenge in a Georgia redistricting case. The District has also joined coalitions opposing Mississippi’s policy of permanently disenfranchising anyone convicted of a felony and supporting an Illinois law that ensures absentee ballots mailed by election day are counted, among others.