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“An Affront To Democracy In Ohio”: It Appears Ohio Republicans Didn’t Get The Message

About a month ago, President Obama’s non-partisan commission on voting issued a detailed report, urging state and local election officials to make it easier for Americans to access their own democracy.

It appears Ohio Republicans didn’t get the message. Zachary Roth reports:

On party lines, the [Ohio state] House voted 59-37 to approve a GOP bill that would cut six days from the state’s early voting period. More importantly, it would end the so-called “Golden Week,” when Ohioans can register and vote on the same day. Same-day registration is among the most effective ways for bringing new voters into the process, election experts say.

The House also voted by 60-38 to approve a bill that would effectively end the state’s successful program of mailing absentee ballots to all registered voters. Under the bill, the secretary of state would need approval from lawmakers to mail absentee ballots, and individual counties could not do so at all. Nearly 1.3 million Ohioans voted absentee in 2012. The bill also would make it easier to reject absentee ballots for missing information.

The Senate quickly approved minor changes to both bills and sent them to the desk of Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, who is expected to sign them.

At the same time, Ohio Democrats spearheaded a new “Voters’ Bill of Rights,” intended to expand early voting and make it harder to disqualify ballots, among other things. Proponents hoped to put the measure on the ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment, but state Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) announced this week that he’s blocking the effort, citing what he called “misrepresentations” in the text of the proposed amendment.

In an editorial  published before yesterday’s votes in the legislature, the Cleveland Plain Dealer argued, “Ohio House Republicans appear poised to pass two measures that, disguises aside, aim to limit voting by Ohioans who might vote for Democrats. That’s not just political hardball. It’s an affront to democracy. Voting is supposed to be about holding elected officials accountable. They won’t be, though, if those same officials massage Ohio law to, in effect, pick their own voters.”

In the larger context, let’s not forget Ohio’s recent history. A decade ago, during the 2004 elections, the state struggled badly with long voting lines, so state policymakers decided to make things better. And in 2008, Ohio’s voting system worked quite well and voters enjoyed a much smoother process.

So smooth, in fact, that Ohio Republicans have worked in recent years to reverse the progress. I’m reminded of Rachel’s segment from Nov. 20 of last year.

“[T]his is not a hypothetical thing in Ohio. The state has a really recent history of it being terribly difficult to vote in heavily populated, especially Democratic-leaning parts of the state. It was really bad in ‘04, and they fixed that problem by making changes like expanding early voting so the lines wouldn’t be so long on Election Day. About a third of Ohio voted early last year. It is much easier to do that.

“And the fact that so many people like early voting and are thereby finding their ways to the polls, that, of course, is a problem for Ohio Republicans. And so, Ohio Republicans moved to break that system again, to go back to the old broken system that didn’t work before. Today, Ohio Republicans voted to cut back early voting by six full days in Ohio. They’re also voting to end same day voter registration, to make it harder to get your vote counted if you have to cast a provisional ballot, and they’re considering cutting back on the number of voting machines at the polls.

“Yes, we’ve always had way too many of those. Your state government at work, Ohio. You’re hoping that your local state legislator would go to Columbus and start working overtly to make the process of voting a lot harder and a lot slower for you? Congratulations, if you voted for a Republican, you got what you paid for.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 20, 2014

February 21, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hanging Chads Of 2012”: Eleventh-Hour GOP Voter Suppression Could Swing Ohio

Ohio GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted has become an infamous figure for aggressively limiting early voting hours and opportunities to cast and count a ballot in the Buckeye State.

Once again Husted is playing the voter suppression card, this time at the eleventh hour, in a controversial new directive concerning provisional ballots. In an order to election officials on Friday night, Husted shifted the burden of correctly filling out a provisional ballot from the poll worker to the voter, specifically pertaining to the recording of a voter’s form of ID, which was previously the poll worker’s responsibility. Any provisional ballot with incorrect information will not be counted, Husted maintains. This seemingly innocuous change has the potential to impact the counting of thousands of votes in Ohio and could swing the election in this closely contested battleground.

“Our secretary of state has created a situation, here in Ohio, where he will invalidate thousands and thousands of people’s votes,” Brian Rothenberg, executive director of ProgessOhio, said during a press conference at the board of elections in Cuyahoga County yesterday in downtown Cleveland. Added State Senator Nina Turner: “‘SoS’ used to stand for ‘secretary of state.’ But under the leadership of Jon Husted, ‘SoS’ stands for ‘secretary of suppression.’ ”

In 2008, 40,000 of the 207,000 provisional ballots cast in Ohio were rejected. The majority of the state’s provisional ballots were cast in Ohio’s five largest counties, which are strongly Democratic. Moreover, provisional ballots are more likely to be cast by poorer and more transient residents of the state, who are also less likely to vote Republican.

The number of discarded provisional ballots could rise significantly due to Husted’s directive. It’s also very likely that more provisional ballots will be cast in 2012 than in 2008, thanks to a wave of new voting restrictions in Ohio and nationwide. The Associated Press reported that 31 percent of the 2.1 million provisional ballots cast nationwide in 2008 were not counted, and called provisional ballots the “hanging chads of 2012.”

A series of missteps by the secretary of state and new rulings by the courts have increased the use of provisional ballots and could delay the outcome of the election and the legitimacy of the final vote.

In Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) and Franklin County (Columbus), voters who requested absentee ballots were wrongly told they were not registered to vote and should cast provisional ballots. The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections quickly followed up with 865 such voters, but in Franklin County a sample of rejected absentee ballot requests found that 38 percent were mistakenly listed as “not registered,” according to an analysis by Norman Robbins of Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates. An untold number of would-be absentee voters could fall into this category in Ohio’s other eighty-six counties. “The deadline has passed to send these voters absentee ballots,” writes Robbins. “Therefore, there needs to be an immediate and broad public announcement that all voters who have been officially informed that they are ‘not registered’ and who believe they truly are registered, should definitely vote a provisional ballot so that their votes might be counted when better searches are done on their provisional ballots.” (A computer glitch by the secretary of state’s office also delayed the processing of 33,000 voter registration forms, which Husted just sent to local boards of elections this week).

Moreover, any voter who requested an absentee ballot but decides, for one reason or another, to vote in person must cast a provisional ballot. Of the 1.3 million absentee ballots sent to Ohio voters, 1.1 million have been returned, according to Husted’s office. But that still leaves up to 200,000 potential votes unaccounted for.

Recent court decisions will also impact the counting of provisional ballots. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that ballots cast in the “right church, wrong pew”—at the right polling place, wrong precinct—must be counted, despite Husted’s objections. But the court sided with Husted that ballots cast at the “wrong church, wrong pew”—at the wrong polling place and wrong precinct—won’t be counted, and that election officials are not required to tell voters that they’re at the wrong location.

A coalition of voting rights groups have filed an emergency injunction against Husted’s last-minute provisional ballot directive. Husted’s briefs are due in court by November 6. According to Ohio law, provisional ballots won’t be counted until ten days after the election. So, if the presidential election comes down to Ohio and the margin is razor-thin, as many are predicting, we won’t know the outcome until well after Election Day. And only then will we find out how many eligible voters were wrongly disenfranchised by the secretary of state.

 

By: Ari Berman, The Nation, November 4, 2012

November 5, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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