Under Pressure, Ohio Abandons Suppressive Voting Hours and GOP Favoritism; Pennsylvania Stays on Democracy-Crushing Course
As pressure mounted to end a perceived voter suppression campaign, Ohio Secretary of State John Husted announced Wednesday that all counties in the Buckeye State will abide by uniform early voting hours.
Originally, counties were making their own hours via four-person election boards with Husted acting as the tie-breaking vote. Not surprisingly, by the new standards of electioneering many highly Republican counties were going to be staying open later than Democrat-leaning areas. This gave an unfair advantage to Republican candidates as working Democrats would have less opportunity to vote with polls closing at 5PM. To Husted’s credit, he eventually came to his senses after originally participating in the suppression effort.
The Republican directed Ohio’s 88 county boards of election to adhere to these hours of operation during the 35-day early voting period: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the first three weeks, and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the final two weeks.
But there will be no weekend voting when early voting begins on Oct. 2, Husted said.
“The bottom line is the antagonists have made an issue about the fact that voters aren’t being treated fairly, that they aren’t being treated the same,” Husted said during a hastily called news conference at his office. “Today we’re treating voters everywhere the same.”
Wednesday, before the decision, the New York Times editorial board called the non-uniform plan “sleazy” and drew added attention to Husted’s indiscretions:
The sleazy politics behind the disparity is obvious. Hamilton County, which contains Cincinnati, is largely Democratic and voted solidly for Barack Obama in 2008. So did the other urban areas of Cleveland, Columbus and Akron, where Republicans, with the assistance of the Ohio secretary of state, Jon Husted, have already eliminated the extended hours for early voting.
County election boards in Ohio, a closely contested swing state, are evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. In counties likely to vote for President Obama, Republicans have voted against the extended hours, and Mr. Husted has broken the tie in their favor. (He said the counties couldn’t afford the long hours.) In counties likely to vote for Mitt Romney, Republicans have not objected to the extended hours.
A national agenda of voter suppression ushered in by the 2010 Tea Party takeover of the House of Representatives is perhaps best described by the NYT:
In Ohio, as in other states, the Republican Party is establishing a reputation for putting short-term political gain ahead of the most fundamental democratic rights.
Critics of Ohio’s new rules remain dissatisfied because weekend hours have been eliminated, something understood to adversely affect the working class. However, other positive steps have been taken, including mailing out absentee ballots and starting early voting 35 days before election day.
Husted noted that this year for the first time Ohio is mailing out absentee ballot applications to all 6.8 million registered Ohio voters, which increases access to voting by mail. And while critics may not like the hours he has set, Husted said there will be 35 full days before the Nov. 6 election when people can find time to vote early if they choose.
Under a new Ohio law, early voting ends on Friday, Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. That law is being challenged by President Barack Obama’s campaign, which has sued in federal court to try to force Ohio to re-open the final three days of voting before Election Day — a crucial voting period for Democrats in 2008, especially in Cuyahoga County.
Across the border in Pennsylvania, news was not as good for democracy. A judge ruled that the Commonwealth’s Voter ID law was constitutional. This stroke of partisan foolishness came despite the fact that not a single case of voter fraud — the cause célèbre of voter suppression enthusiasts — has been reported in the state.
In a 70-page order, Judge Robert E. Simpson, a Republican, said opponents failed to show “that disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable.” Simpson did not rule on the full merits of the case, only on whether or not to grant a temporary injunction.
Civil rights advocates say the law, which could affect as many as 750,000 registered voters who don’t have the required ID, will disproportionately keep poor, elderly, minority and student voters away from the polls.
A key part of the finding was that Simpson refused to believe the number of affected voters and called the method of obtaining the figure unreliable:
Judge Robert Simpson couldn’t have been clearer on what he thought of Baretto’s study and his testimony:
“Parts of this testimony were believable. For the most part, however, his opinions were not credible or were given only little weight. There were numerous reasons for this, including demeanor, bias (see Pet’rs’ Ex.16), and a lack of knowledge of Pennsylvania case law regarding name conformity. In addition, I had doubts about his survey design: name conformity inquiry; oversampling; post-stratification weighting, especially with regard to age and gender; and overarching design for “eligible” voters, as opposed to “registered” voters. Also, I had doubts about the survey execution: response rate; and timing (June 21 through July 2, 2012).”
Returning Pennsylvania to Jim Crow era manipulation will take more than one judge’s ignorance, though. The appeal process will now take the case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.