Backfired! 4 Ways the Ohio GOP Tilts Voting Rules But Ends Up Helping Democrats
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The Ohio Senate (sort of) negotiated with me about the fact that it would, in the middle of the presidential election year, pass a law requiring advance posting of directives for public comment in order for the directives to become “permanent” directives. I shuffled along with it like a prisoner who was already handcuffed. They apparently thought this would give them more control over the process.
Before the bill took effect on September 12, 2008, my staff and I posted the last of nearly all the directives needed for a smooth 2008 general election, just before midnight on September 11, 2008. The last directive posted declared a long list of directives in place for the 2008 election to be “permanent” directives. The tide had already gone out on their attempt to wade into the province of the executive branch.
The GOP decried the number of directives issued by the secretary of state’s office. The boards of elections, however, for the first time, had uniform poll worker training standards and rules throughout the state, tools such as poll worker reference “flip charts,” rules for observers at polling places, rules for backup paper ballots in the event of electronic machine failure, guidelines for determining the minimum number of voting machines for a polling place, polling place arrangement guidelines and rules for posting precinct results and transporting ballots and voting machines, all well in advance of the 2008 general election. Contrary to the GOP’s intention, we were helping local election officials.
This “election roadmap” later became the basis of a legal settlement with the League of Women Voters that I settled after inheriting it from my predecessor, Ken Blackwell. The roadmap was written into a six-year federal consent decree that remains in place today for Ohio’s upcoming presidential election. You could call that a soft backfire, since it operated for the greater good.
Exhibit 3: Force-Feeding
In late summer of 2008, the Ohio GOP-controlled legislature hatched another plan to tinker with the absentee balloting process.
It forced $3 million on the Ohio secretary of state’s office in an attempt to require the statewide distribution of absentee ballot applications to all Ohio registered voters. With the advent of no-fault absentee voting, many large, urban counties (which traditionally lean Democratic) had routinely since 2006 been mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications to their voters as a way to alleviate long lines on Election Day. But the less-populated counties, more largely rural and Republican, did not have the same level of local financial support—or the perceived need—to do the same unsolicited absentee ballot applications. Some boards even stated that they recognized that “many” organizations (in reality, the Ohio GOP) generally mailed applications to their constituency, and a mailing from the board would be duplicative, expensive and even confusing.
The GOP-controlled legislature still believed it knew better. At a time when government revenues were about to begin a steep decline, in late summer 2008, they appropriated the money without conferring with the Secretary of State on how much was needed to get the job done. If all of the state’s boards mailed ballot applications to all of Ohio’s voters, the counties would be left holding part of the tab—which could have been a sizable cost. But the GOP had inadvertently included language to let counties opt-out, and some small counties did.
The large counties, however, took their chances and mailed the absentee ballot applications. The result for the 2008 presidential election was that the large counties did what they usually did, this time at state expense, thanks to the Ohio GOP, and the legislature’s ill-advised experiment -- you guessed it -- backfired.