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An update on NEOCH's lawsuit against voter suppression bill OH H.B. 458.

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) is a community formed by unhoused people, concerned community residents, social justice organizations, and homeless service providers. Their mission is to eliminate the root causes of homelessness by loving our diverse community through organizing, advocacy, education, and street outreach. They have engaged in the work of increasing civil and voting rights among people experiencing homelessness in Cleveland for 35 years and have been a Cleveland VOTES partner for several years. Their Homeless Congress–-which was partially funded by a grant from Cleveland VOTES–-is a good example of their ongoing commitment to equitable civic engagement. NEOCH’s 5-year strategic plan through 2025 also includes the goal of advancing its efforts to protect and expand civil rights.


A few dozen people of various ages and genders standing together raising their fists and looking at the camera
Photo of the Homeless Congress used with permission from NEOCH

This protection was seen on full display back in early January when NEOCH joined the Ohio Federation of Teachers, Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans, Union Veterans Council, and the state’s 88 county boards of elections in a lawsuit against Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose over Ohio House Bill 458. In case you need a reminder, H.B. 458 is a voter suppression law that was enacted on Jan. 6, 2023, and imposes three new restrictions on the voting process:


  • A new photo ID provision that requires one of four forms of photo ID (a driver’s license, state identification card, passport, or military identification) in order to vote in person and eliminates a long list of previously accepted IDs;

  • Moves up the deadline for voters to cure (meaning fix minor technical mistakes) their provisional and rejected mail-in ballots from seven days to four days after Election Day; and

  • Advances both the deadline for voters to request mail-in ballots from three days to a week before Election Day and the deadline for voters to return their mail-in ballots from ten days to four days after Election Day.


It was also notable that H.B. 458 was passed despite both LaRose and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine having praised the state’s electoral processes in recent years. Both men have also acknowledged that widespread voter fraud is not currently an issue in Ohio, but that didn’t stop Ohio legislators from using this “issue” to justify passing the law at the beginning of the year.


According to NEOCH, the new changes brought by H.B. 458 make it extremely difficult for people experiencing homelessness–-as well as young, elderly, and Black voters–-to exercise their right to vote. For example, the new restrictions impact people living in shelters and those living on the streets due to their difficulties getting mail at a consistent address or their lack of documentation needed to acquire an acceptable form of identification to vote in person. Previously, NEOCH encouraged folks to use bank statements, government checks, paychecks, and other government documents, but these forms of identification are no longer acceptable.

An elderly Black man wearing a white cap and shirt holds a sign that says "Housing is a Human Right"
Photo from NEOCH

Also, advancing the deadlines by which voters must submit applications for mailed absentee voter ballots and for providing documents and information to cure provisional ballots or rejected mail ballots are an added barrier to NEOCH’s communication and coordination efforts with people who already are experiencing multiple barriers to stability and consistent communication. Given the day-to-day survival realities of living in a homelessness crisis, follow-up is very difficult.


Director of Organizing and Advocacy at NEOCH, Josiah Quarles further compares H.B. 458 to “when poll taxes and literacy tests were used in the past” to suppress Black folks during the Jim Crow era. “We are challenging them now, just as we did back then, to defend our rights and the soul of our democracy,” says Quarles.


In the lawsuit, NEOCH and the other plaintiffs argue that the new voting requirements “impose unjustified and discriminatory burdens on the fundamental right to vote,” which they claim is in violation of the 1st and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, NEOCH asks the court to permanently block the challenged provisions in H.B. 458 for being unconstitutional. So far, NEOCH filed the lawsuit in January and was deposed by the attorney general's office in June. The lawsuit will develop further this fall.

You can keep up with updates by visiting NEOCH’s website, signing up for their newsletter, and/or following them on social media. In the meantime, if you or someone you know needs an acceptable form of voter ID before the November Election, contact VoteRiders. And let LaRose and DeWine know you think this legislation should be overturned.


An elderly black man sits in a van and holds up peace signs with both hands. He is wearing a black mask that says "We still can't read" in white font.
Photo from NEOCH
 

Sources:



NEOCH FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST VOTER SUPPRESSION LAW.” Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, 10 Jan. 2023.


Ohio H.B. 458 Challenge.” Democracy Docket, 18 Apr. 2023.

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