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Sixth Circuit Rejects Covid-Based Challenge to Ballot-Access Laws

The court rejects the claims that Ohio's ballot-access laws have become unconstitutionally coercive due to the pandemic.


Today, in Hawkins v. DeWine, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected a constitutional challenge to Ohio's ballot access laws premised on the argument that, due to social distancing requirements, it is now too onerous to attempt to collect in-person signatures.

Judge Cole wrote the opinion for the court, joined by Judges Siler and Stranch. His opinion begins:

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the State of Ohio issued a series of orders restricting in-person gatherings. But it left unchanged its ballot-access laws, which require candidates and minor political parties hoping to be listed on November's ballot to show that they have a modicum of community support by collecting petition signatures from Ohio voters. The law requires that the signatures be collected in person, a task which has become more difficult in the era of social distancing. This case presents us with the question whether the State's ballot-access requirements, as applied, have become unconstitutionally burdensome in light of the orders restricting in-person gatherings. Binding precedent compels us to conclude that they are not.

The court makes rather quick work of the plaintiffs' arguments, concluding that under the Anderson-Burdick framework applied to such claims, the state's ballot access laws and Covid-19 responses easily pass muster.