Following the repeal of the Ohio House GOP amendment that threatened to cut local government funding by 10 percent for any county that mailed absentee ballots to their residents, Cuyahoga County Executive and democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald appeared on MSNBC to discuss his role in this victory for Ohio and voting rights.
A partial transcript of the interview is below. You can watch the clip HERE.
Ari Melber: Joining us is Ed FitzGerald, Cuyahoga County Executive and he is also a Democratic candidate for the Governor of Ohio. Tell us what this is all about and why were seeing something that looked like blackmail, looked like basically tying to withhold unrelated funds to help people vote and why this has changed tonight?
Ed FitzGerald: Sure. Well, we’ve had kind of a crazy 48 hours. It was yesterday that we found out that the legislature had inserted a provision and then passed it out of Committee that was going to cut 10% of our local government funding for the sole reason that we were talking about trying to protect people’s right to vote by sending out vote by mail applications. And, for 24 hours, we scrambled, basically, to find what kind of legal recourse we could come up with to try to stop this. Now, we’ve beaten them before on this in court, before, Ari, but this was a different tactic. Instead of fighting us in the court where we have won consistently, they said, let’s hit them in the pocketbook. And by the way, these funds are the ones we use for police and fire services and for EMS. I mean this is the cheapest of cheap shots. So, this morning at 10:30, we contacted the Justice Department, submitted a memo that basically said what they’re doing is coercion, it’s extortion, we think it’s a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, it’s a violation of Voting Rights Act and we asked for an a Department of Justice investigation. After, we did that the dominos started to fall. And the good news, as of tonight, is that they’ve backed off.
Melber: Now, obviously, part of the Voting Rights Act has fallen under the Supreme Court Ruling last year, but what part and what argument did you make that this violates what remains in the books?
FitzGerald: Well, what they’re talking about changing has had a disproportionate effect particularly among African-Americans voters. So if you look at the early voting provisions that they’re trying to reduce in recent legislation, African Americans in this state were three times more likely to avail themselves of using those provisions than non-African Americans. So, it clearly has had a discriminatory effect. Again, we’re used to fighting that battle with them in the courts. This was the first time they tried to coerce us by actually taking funds away that we use to provide services for all of our residents on a daily basis.
Melber: Do you think the problem they had politically within the Republican party in your state was this tactic. I mean, that’s what we’re emphasizing here. This tactic of blackmail, this attempt to withhold the money. We know that Republicans have been very aggressive about limiting aspects of the vote in other states. That’s not controversial. So is that what backfired on them here?
FitzGerald: Well, let me point out. We reacted to this as soon as we heard it. Governor Kasich refused to comment on it yesterday and so did the Secretary of State. It wasn’t until, I mean literally we were at federal court at 10:30. It wasn’t until after we did that that the Secretary of State came out and the Governor after that. I think they know that this was a violation of the law. I think they know damn well what they were doing with this. And they did it intentionally, I think once we called them on it, once we stood up to them on it. I think that’s the lesson to be learned here. When we have these cases of voter suppression, we have to be just as strong and just as determined on the other side.