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If the Ohio statute permitting localities to use deficient voting technology infringes on the right to vote, then strict scrutiny applies; if the statute does not infringe on the right to vote, and merely regulates some tangential aspect of the franchise, then rational basis review applies. This begs the question of what the right to vote encompasses. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit easily concludes that the right to have one's vote counted on equal terms is part of the right to vote. No other conclusion is possible from the case law and thus, strict scrutiny applies.
Plaintiffs, Caucasian and African American voters who resided in four Ohio counties, filed the present complaint alleging that the use of unreliable, deficient voting equipment, including the punch card ballot, in some Ohio counties but not other counties, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The plaintiffs argued that the use of error prone voting equipment deprives voters of their due process right to have their votes counted accurately and the use of punch card voting systems in Hamilton, Montgomery, and Summit Counties has a disparate impact on African-American voters in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The State argued that the plaintiffs did not provide factual evidence to prove a violation of the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act. The district court rejected the plaintiffs' claims and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Plaintiffs challenged the decision.
Did the use of unreliable, deficient voting equipment, including the punch card ballot, violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
The court reversed the district court's decision with regard to the equal protection claim and remanded with instructions to enter judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. The court noted that it was instructed that if the Ohio statute permitting localities to use deficient voting technology infringed on the right to vote, then strict scrutiny applied; if the statute did not infringe on the right to vote, and merely regulated some tangential aspect of the franchise, then rational basis review applied. The Court found that, under either standard of review, the use of the technology failed both tests.