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Federal judge erred in last-minute order to keep Cincinnati polling places open in March primary, appeals court says

An appeals court on Tuesday said a Cincinnati federal judge overstepped her bounds when she ordered polling places in southwest Ohio to remain open for an hour so that people stuck in traffic could vote in the March 15 primary. CINCINNATI, Ohio -- An appeals court on Tuesday said a Cincinnati federal judge overstepped her bounds when she ordered polling places in southwest Ohio to remain open for an hour so that people stuck in traffic could vote in the March 15 primary. The Republican-leaning panel of judges from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott's last-minute order to the Ohio secretary of state's office was an error, as it was based on anonymous phone calls to the clerk of court's office. The appeals court's decision does not change anything about the results of the primary election. Rather, the court said it made its ruling in case similar problems arise in future elections. (You can read the full order here or at the bottom of this story.) The traffic problems on Interstate 275 were caused by a car plunging from the Combs-Hehl Bridge into the Ohio River at 4:30 p.m. Dlott was at a law school dinner when the clerk's office called her at about 7 p.m., 30 minutes before the polls closed, to tell her motorists were stranded and couldn't get to the polls, the opinion says. The judge issued an oral order requiring more than 1,100 polling places in Hamilton, Butler, Clermot and Warren counties remain open. The clerk of court's office called Matthew Damschroder, the secretary of state's Office employee in charge of elections, at 7:28 p.m. He finished listening to the voicemail at 7:31 p.m., a minute after the polls had closed, the opinion says. Election workers scrambled to reopen the polling places. Some were successful and others were not, according to the opinion. Secretary of State Jon Husted appealed Dlott's order. The court, in a 2-1 decision with a partial dissent by Chief Judge Guy Cole, said Dlott should not have ruled because the case, while not necessarily a lawsuit, did not have a named plaintiff that could show how he or she was disenfranchised by not keeping the polling places open later. "The district court judge, we realize, was in a difficult spot. She was out of the office. It was late. She had little time to act. All of this presumably led her to err on the side of protecting people's right to vote," wrote Sutton who was appointed to the appeals court by President George W. Bush. "But none of this explains why the clerk's office or the court couldn't answer the phone call with the most natural of questions: 'Who is it?'" The appeals court said it made its ruling, in part, to ensure a protocol is in place should any last-minute polling issues arise in the future. "... If one looks at the problem as being about anonymous phone calls claiming that traffic accidents or weather-related problems are preventing voters from getting to the polls, it's easy to see the problem arising again," Sutton wrote. Joshua Eck, a spokesman for Husted, praised the ruling and said Husted sought the court's review in case such a situation arose again. He said it was difficult to re-open more than 1,100 voting precincts in the four affected counties. In a news release, Husted said that "anonymous tips at the eleventh hour should not be an acceptable standard for making last-minute changes to how we exercise our right to vote." Dlott, appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton, declined to comment through an office aide. Gov. John Kasich in June vetoed a bill that would have required voters seeking an extension for voting hours in county courts to post bond equal to the estimated cost of keeping polling places open. Read more: Voting bill vetoed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich // DV.load("", { width: 600, height: 800, sidebar: false, container: "#DV-viewer-3098804-16a0219p-06" }); // ]]> Read more..

George W. Bush Voting President of the United States United States Appeal Bill Clinton Democracy United States district court

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