“I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine,” said Doug Preisse, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party and close adviser to Gov. John Kasich, in an email to The Columbus Dispatch on Aug. 19.
The admission to racial politics was immediately picked up by state Democrats, reigniting the early voting controversy even more than the previous threats to fire Montgomery County Board of Election Democrats who refused to comply with Secretary of State Jon Husted’s demands for uniform early voting hours.
The remark by Preisse was in defense of Husted’s actions. Husted had invoked uniform early voting hours in Ohio and the Democrats quickly jumped on the new uniform hours for not including weekend hours. Preisse admitted race was a factor while justifying why there would be no in-person early voting during the weekends.
Unsurprisingly, the remarks quickly backfired. For many Democrats, the racism invoked feelings of Jim Crow laws, which suppressed the black vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Blatantly admitting to suppressing black voters in a post-legal segregation era was immediately repulsive to Democrats.
“Ohio Republican Party leadership and Kasich’s adviser need to wake up and remember we’re in the 21st century and that there’s never an appropriate time to talk about suppressing African-American voters,” said Jerid Kurtz, spokesperson for the Ohio Democratic Party, in a statement.
But Preisse’s remarks don’t reveal anything new. For years, study after study have confirmed that voter suppression laws — meaning laws that require state-issued voter IDs and laws that diminish early voting opportunities — disproportionately hurt minorities. Minorities also tend to vote Democrat. An Aug. 23 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney listed with 0 percent of the black vote — not even 1 full percentage point. Democrats have long suspected these laws, which are almost entirely pushed by the GOP, are purposely suppressing Democratic constituents.
The Ohio Republican Party has already begun damage control. In a recent statement to The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Matt Borges, the executive director of the state Republican Party, said Preisse thought he was off the record in his email. Borges also said Preisse was probably offering background.
This is obviously not a good defense. It doesn’t deny the racism; it just says the racism wasn’t supposed to be public.
The concept of being off the record also doesn’t match what Preisse told BuzzFeed shortly after his email to The Dispatch. He denied racism, but then contradicted himself by saying his comments were simply honest: “I am asking the question, and I am indeed questioning how far this process of democratic, small ‘d,’ democratic voting process should be contorted to favor a political operation. I don’t think we should go overboard in doing that.”
In other words, Preisse doesn’t want to empower urban — read African-American — voters too much because it might help Democrats. That’s still playing racial politics.
Besides, if Republicans aren’t just playing politics, what reasons are there to make early voting more difficult?
One argument Republicans bring up is cost. But recent numbers from the Hamilton County Board of Elections show that, at a minimum, the current plan to expand early voting would cost Hamilton County $18,676. That’s 0.009 percent of the county’s 2012 budget. It could be 10 times the estimated amount and it would still be less than 0.1 percent. That’s a fairly low price for making voting — the most basic of civic duties — easier.
Another Republican argument for voter suppression laws is voter fraud. But that only applies to voter ID laws, not in-person early voting. Plus, News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found only 10 cases of in-person voting fraud since 2000. That’s about one case of in-person fraud each year. With about 154 million registered voters in the United States, that’s one case of in-person voter fraud for every 15.4 million people. Going after such a rare crime is not worth the cost of liberty.
Maybe it’s all of the above: racism, cost and voter fraud. Whatever the case, Republicans aren’t backing down. On Aug. 22, Husted released a statement defending his actions and rules. In the statement, he declared: “The rules are set and are not going to change.”
End of argument.
CONTACT GERMAN LOPEZ: [email protected] or @germanrlopez