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“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

“Never Underestimate GOP Cynicism”: Those Who Think Sandy’s Effects Won’t Matter Because It Primarily Affected Blue States Should Think Again

For all the speculation about the effect of Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath on the election, one important aspect has gotten surprisingly little attention: How many people will be unable to vote because of power outages, floods, and impaired transportation systems? How many will be deterred from voting because they are dealing with serious dislocations in their lives? And what new forms of Republican mischief will all this invite?

Other things being equal, President Obama seems to have been the winner so far because of his impressive handling of the crisis. Chris Christie surely helped on the image front.

But other things are not equal. Four days before the election, at least three million Americans are without power. And so are thousands of neighborhood polling places.

Bus and subway lines are not fully operating, and there are gas shortages, especially in New Jersey. Both factors raise obstacles to people getting to the polls.

Hundreds of thousands of people—conceivably more than a million—may not be able to vote in their usual polling place. Some may not bother to vote at all.

As always, lower-income voters, who tend to favor Democrats, have fewer options and backup plans than more affluent voters. Any competent political scientist will confirm that it’s always a challenge to persuade lower-income citizens that voting can make a difference in their lives. The aftermath of the storm is just one more obstacle to full participation.

Last-minute shifts in polling venues are both confusing to voters and to local election officials, many of whom are volunteers. People who registered may not show up on lists if they are voting outside their usual location, leading to more ballot challenges than usual, even without Republican skullduggery.

Some jurisdictions are printing up paper ballots as a fallback, but the preparations seem surprisingly lackadaisical. At the very least, all of this introduces new uncertainty and new opportunities for ballot challenges.

Under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, passed after the 2000 election debacle, federal law requires local officials to permit provisional voting if there is some question about whether a citizen is entitled to cast a ballot. But provisional voting invites legal appeals, and God help us if the number of challenged ballots in a key swing state exceeds the margin separating the candidates. Worst case, we could see the courts getting involved, with ominous echoes of the Supreme Court’s theft of the 2000 election.

It may seem comforting to Democrats that most of the hardest-hit states are safely blue. But think again. Although Obama seems narrowly ahead in the projected electoral count, the popular vote seems to be almost a tie. To win it, Obama needs to roll up big margins in states deep blue like New York—where turnout could well be depressed. He would of course still be president if he won the Electoral College and lost the popular vote. But in terms of the national psychology (and his own self-confidence as a fighter), Obama would have more of the appearance of a mandate if he won the popular vote.

One of the hard hit states, Pennsylvania, is still close enough that Republicans are throwing money into it. At this writing, between 250 and 300 Pennsylvania polling places are still without power, along with 307,000 Pennsylvania citizens. On balance, any fallout from the storm that depresses turnout is not good for Democrats.

Mercifully, the talk from earlier in the week that a state might actually try to postpone Election Day has faded. It’s clear that only Congress has the right to set Election Day. If elections were not postponed during the Civil War, it’s unthinkable that they’d be postponed a week after a hurricane. Even The Wall Street Journal editorial page discouraged the idea of delaying the election (maybe because Obama’s lead is widening?)

But after what we’ve seen in the past several elections in Republican voter-suppression efforts, never estimate the cynicism of the GOP or its appetite for fishing in troubled waters. The best antidote to all of this is a big general turnout and a stormproof margin of Democratic victory.

 

By: Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect, November 3, 2012

November 4, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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