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Election rights advocates allege new violations for absentee and provisional Ohio ballots

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Recently passed Ohio voting laws create new hurdles for minority voters casting absentee and provisional ballots, election rights advocates argued in an updated federal lawsuit filed Monday.

The laws and similar orders by the state's elections chief unconstitutionally permit absentee votes to be thrown out for ID errors, according to the lawsuit. Those mistakes could include putting down the wrong birth month on the absentee envelope even when a voter supplied the correct information when requesting the ballot, the lawsuit said.

The laws also removed protection for voters casting provisional ballots by failing to provide the chance for voters to be notified of errors that could cause the ballot to be rejected, according to the lawsuit.

The changes in the laws adversely affect black and Hispanic voters since minority voters are more likely to cast absentee and provisional ballots, the lawsuit said.

As a result, the changes in the laws — approved by Republican lawmakers and signed by GOP Gov. — targeted Democratic voters, according to the lawsuit.

The new procedure "will unlawfully disenfranchise thousands of Ohio voters who cast absentee or provisional ballots in upcoming elections — and who primarily are minority voters and/or voters who support the Democratic Party," according to the lawsuit filed by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless and the Ohio Democratic Party.

The attorney general's office declined to comment on the new allegations. "We'll continue to defend the constitutionality of Ohio's laws," said spokesman Dan Tierney.

In April, Ohio Secretary of State and the Ohio Chapter of the NAACP and other plaintiffs settled a lawsuit that alleged restrictions in voting hours hurt low-income, black voters disproportionately. The deal maintained elimination of the so-called "golden week" in which individuals could both register and vote, but added weekend and evening voting hours, even in areas of the state that previously hadn't offered them.

Husted is confident Ohio remains an easy place to vote, said spokesman Joshua Eck, who also declined to address Monday's filing.

Provisional ballots are cast when voters don't take proper ID to the polls, among other reasons. Election officials later verify the voters' eligibility. Acceptable ID could include a social security number, an Ohio driver's license or a state ID card.

At issue are laws signed in February 2014 that took effect on June 1, 2014.

The lawsuit dates to a 2006 challenge of a law that specified when provisional ballots could be counted toward vote totals. A 2010 court decree stemming from that lawsuit governs Ohio's provisional ballots and voter identification requirements.

Two years ago, Columbus federal judge Algenon Marbley extended that consent decree through next year. Last week, Marbley ruled the election advocates could file the updated lawsuit.

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