In July 2005, a case was filed addressing the large-scale problems encountered by voters in Ohio in the 2004 election and preceding elections. The Ohio League of Women Voters, the Toledo League of Women Voters, and twelve Ohio voters alleged that the Governor and Secretary of State of Ohio are overseeing an election system that is grossly unequal and unfair to Ohio voters. After the plaintiffs brought the case, the state moved to dismiss. The District Court denied the motion on equal protection and due process claims. The defendants then appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
For more than a year, the Sixth Circuit had stayed the defendant Ohio Secretary of State’s appeal while they explored settlement. The lack of progress in settlement discussions led the plaintiffs to request that the stay be lifted and the appeal denying the defendants’ motion to dismiss be resolved. On November 26, 2008, a unanimous panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district’s court denial of defendants’ motions to dismiss with respect to plaintiffs’ equal protection and substantive due process causes of action and also affirmed the denial of the defendants’ motion to dismiss on sovereign immunity grounds. However, the court reversed the district court and dismissed the plaintiffs’ procedural due process claim. This case sets an important circuit court precedent holding that state election officials can be held liable on constitutional grounds for large-scale failures in election administration.
With respect to the equal protection claim, the court held that the standard was “whether the amended complaint pleads facts, if proven, sufficient to establish that defendants arbitrarily deny Ohioans the right based on where they live”, and found that plaintiffs’ complaint satisfied that standard. Regarding substantive due process, the court held plaintiffs’ allegations, “if true, could support a troubling picture of a system so devoid of standards and procedures as to violate substantive due process.” The court rejected the procedural due process claim because “the League has not alleged a constitutionally protected interest.”
The case was remanded to the district court for discovery, and the outstanding claims were settled on June 19, 2009.