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Appeals court: Judge shouldn't have kept polls open late

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Posted at 5:56 PM, Sep 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-07 08:13:08-04

CINCINNATI -- District Court Judge Susan J. Dlott should not have ordered polls to stay open late due to traffic problems, federal appeals court judges found Tuesday.

The ruling is not expected to affect election results.

A series of crashes on the Combs-Hehl Bridge killed a driver when his car fell off the bridge into the Ohio River and caused major traffic backups on Interstate 275 and other area roads March 15, which was also the day of Ohio's primary election.

After an anonymous caller complained of trouble reaching polling places due to the traffic jams, Dlott -- who was no longer at the courthouse -- ordered that the polls in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties remain open an extra hour, until 8:30 p.m.

Some polling places remained open and others didn't because workers didn't hear about the order until after they had already closed.

The Ohio secretary of state and Hamilton and Butler boards of elections later appealed the ruling.

Because officials didn't have the name of the caller, there was no plaintiff to make the complaint, appeals judges wrote in their opinion.

"The district court judge, we realize, was in a difficult spot," Circuit Judge Sutton wrote. "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. 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?' And none of this allowed the court to sidestep the Article III limitations on our power."

Without a plaintiff the court had no jurisdiction, the appeals court judges found.

Read the judges' opinions below:

Primary election opinons by James on Scribd