Ohio's GOP Secretary of State Ignores Court Order To Expand Weekend Voting
Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State John Husted is playing with political fire.
On Friday, a U.S. District Court ordered Ohio’s Secretary of State to open polling places on the weekend before November’s presidential election, issuing an ruling that said voting on that weekend could serve 100,000 voters, particularly minorities and the poor.
Earlier today, Husted responded by thumbing his nose at that injunction—which relied on the federal Voting Rights Act—by issuing a directive telling Ohio boards of elections that no early voting would occur on that weekend until the court action ended.
If you want to see what voter suppression looks like in 2012, parse the logic and rehetoric in Husted’s latest directive—which his office has the authority to issue:
“Announcing new hours before the court case reaches final resolution will only serve to confuse voters and conflict with the standard of uniformity sought in Directive 2012-35. Therefore, there is no valid reason for my office or the county boards of elections to set hours for in-person absentee voting the last three days before the election at this time. If the appellate courts ultimately reverse the trial court’s decision, in-person absentee voting for non-UOCAVA voters will end the Friday before the election. If however, the appellate courts uphold the trial court’s decision, I will be required to issue a consistent uniform schedule for statewide in-person voting hours for the last three days before the election. I am confident there will be sufficient time after the conclusion of the appeal process to set uniform hours across the state.”
Let’s look at Husted's statement step by step. He says that planning right now to have the polls open on that weekend will “confuse voters.” That is not true, as the state has had those early voting hours in all recent federal elections for several cycles. Changing those weekend hours will confuse people—not the other way around.
Husted’s “standard of uniformity” is a very slippery legal term. Before he decided not to allow any early voting on that last weekend, different counties were opting to offer the extended early voting or were declining to. In Franklin County, where the city of Columbus is located, a GOP member of the county election board said he didn’t want to extend early voting because it would make it easier for African-Americans. In another county, Husted fired two BOE members who wanted to extend voting hours.
This "standard of uniformity" can be used to stop voting opportunities, just as it was used in 2000’s Florida presidential election to stop a statewide recount. There the legal term was “equal protection”—because different counties had differing procedures. But the bottom line in Ohio, for now, is “uniformity” is being used to impede voting.
Finally, Husted’s statement that there will be time to institute the weekend voting if the court order stands is also specious. While it is true that early voting in Ohio occurs at a handful of locations—typically county government centers—it’s also true that election resources, from machines to staffing, have to be deployed. Doing so at the last-minute can cause management chaos and delays for voters. Moreover, the longer Husted waits to announce that early voting will occur on that final weekend, the less time there is for public education and get-out-the-vote organizing.
Husted knows that Tuesday’s directive will frustrate as many as 100,000 Ohio voters—who may have to make other plans to cast a ballot. These kinds of intentional barriers are the face of voter suppression in 2012.