By the time this article is published, the election will hopefully be over. The month of early voting and Election Day will have come to a close, and voters will have made their choices for the president, U.S. Congress, state offices and many other major offices and issues. But when it’s all said and done, voters will be making those choices not thanks to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, but despite him.
Ohio’s secretary of state has gained a lot of attention this year. Early in the year, he was one of the few state Republicans telling his fellow party members to reenact early voting that was repealed by HB 194 and HB 224. Since then, Husted has has been mired in controversies that question his capabilities as secretary of state.
First came the controversy over SB 295, which partially repealed early voting restrictions in HB 194. Even though the law did reenact most in-person early voting, it kept most Ohioans from voting on the weekend and Monday before Election Day; those three days were still reserved for military personnel and their families. Democrats were not happy with the restriction, and judging from the massive lines wrapping around the Hamilton County Board of Elections on Nov. 4, they had good reasons for their concern. So they, along with President Barack Obama’s campaign, sued Husted and the state to restore early voting for all Ohioans on those days.
The courts sided with Obama and Democrats. On Aug. 31, U.S. District Judge Peter Economus said voting on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day must be open to everyone. The issue could have ended there, but Husted and fellow Republicans appealed the ruling. The appeals court once again agreed with Obama and the Democrats, and Husted and fellow Republicans appealed again, all the way to the U.S.
In the middle of that controversy came accusations that state Republicans were allowing more in-person early voting hours in Republican-leaning counties and blocking expanded hours in Democratic-leaning counties. The accusations had some merit. County boards of elections, which are split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, gave Republican-leaning Warren County and Butler County more early voting hours, but Republican board members blocked expanded hours in Democratic-leaning Lucas, Cuyahoga, Summit and Franklin counties. When Husted stepped in to break tie votes in the Democratic-leaning counties, he blocked expanded early voting hours every time.
The issue later settled down when Husted enforced uniform early voting hours across the state, but even that was not without controversy. In 2008, some Ohio counties had in-person early voting during weekends, but the new directive from Husted ensured there would be no weekend early voting, excluding any court decisions regarding the weekend before Election Day.
Democrats were quick to pounce on the omission of weekends. In his defense, Husted cited costs and claimed Ohioans had enough opportunities to vote through the set hours and mail-in absentee ballots. Other Republicans cited the myth of widespread in-person voter fraud — a News21 investigation found 10 cases of in-person voter impersonation nationwide since 2000 — and racial politics. In an email to The Columbus Dispatch, Doug Preisse, close adviser to Republican Gov. John Kasich, wrote, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.”
Husted is now involved in another controversy regarding provisional ballots. In a directive sent out Nov. 2 in response to recent court rulings, Husted allegedly shifted the burden of proper identification from poll workers to voters. Voter rights activists quickly filed a lawsuit in response to the directive, claiming Ohio law requires poll workers to collect identity information. The new rule could force Ohio to reject even more provisional ballots, which are ballots filed when a voter’s eligibility is uncertain. In 2008, Ohio was top three in provisional ballots with 204,651 filed and about 40,000 rejected, according to the Election Day Survey Report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Putting controversy after controversy together, it’s clear Husted has consistently been on the side of those accused of voter suppression. And that’s not even counting controversies with Issue 2’s ballot language and rumored upcoming legislation with more voting restrictions. If Ohioans had an easy time voting this year, it’s despite everything Husted and his Republican friends have done.
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