After a week of threats from Republican Party officials to make mailing absentee ballot applications more difficult in Ohio, Cuyahoga County Executive and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald appeared on MSNBC to discuss his role in making voting easier for Ohioans in 2014 and 2012 – as well as the relevance of new voter suppression laws for the 2016 presidential election.
A transcript of the interview is below. You can watch the clip HERE
Melissa Harris-Perry (MHP):…And this week, one county executive said that if Husted doesn’t exercise the discretion in future elections, well he plans to have the County mail them in direct violation of Ohio state law. That man, Ed FitzGerald, happens to be the executive of, you guessed it, Cuyahoga County and the Democrat challenging John Kasich for the governor’s seat in November. On Tuesday, he went so far as to send a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, requesting a Justice Department investigation into Ohio’s new voting changes. Cuyahoga county executive Ed FitzGerald joins me now from Cleveland. So nice to have you.
Ed FitzGerald (EFG): Good to be here. Good morning.
MHP: Okay, so help us out. What is the reasoning that Husted has given for this policy change?
EFG: Well basically what he said is that they want to have uniform rules across the state of Ohio, and unfortunately instead of taking up everybody up to a higher standard, he’s taking everyone down to a lower standard. And what we’ve said in response to that is you go back to 2004, not everybody did have equal access to the ballot because we saw the results. You have hundreds of thousands.. in excess of a hundred thousand voters really be unable to vote in Ohio so — you know this one of these instances, Melissa, where there was a problem, there was a solution, and it worked. Unfortunately in their opinion — I guess it worked too well.
MHP: And so, Mr. FitzGerald, I just want to point out that you’re just not sort of saying it worked, in fact, Mr. Husted, himself, very much takes credit for this. If you go to his website, it says in the first paragraph, as Ohio’s 53rd Secretary of State, Jon Husted is responsible for oversight of elections in one of the nation’s most hotly-contested swing states. And by his steady hand, Ohio delivered a smooth and fair 2012 Presidential Election with record absentee voting turnout. This was thanks in part to his decision to send the first ever statewide absentee ballot application mailing to all Ohio voters, thereby reducing the chance of long lines at the polls on Election Day.’ So, why are we fighting this now, it is even at the top of his site as a success?
EFG: Yeah, he — he leaves something out. What happened in 2012 is that my county said that if the state did not mail those ballots out in 2012, that we were going to. And we were threatened back in 2012, just like we have been this year, so they threatened to cut our funding, remove me from office back in two 2011, and it wasn’t until we said well look, we’re gonna go to the Justice Department back in 2011 and they said, okay, fine we’ll do it. So you know, he’s leaving out part of the history. Now the only thing that’s changed since then is now they’ve actually passed a state law to say that it’s illegal for us to do that. They didn’t have that back in 2011.
MHP: Okay, sixteen percent of all votes for President Obama in the state of Ohio came from this county. Do you think that this is a partisan law rather than one that is about sort of the quality of voting?
EFG: Yes. There’s one thing politicians know for sure – no matter what people’s opinion of politicians, I’ll tell you what politicians always know: they know who votes, they know when they vote, and they know where they vote. And they know when they have implemented these new rules, they know exactly who it’s affecting. It is not by a coincidence that these things are happening in state after state after state and there’s always the same groups that are being targeted.There’s no question about it. And by the way, if they didn’t know about it, they’ve been to federal court before. Everytime we take these issues to court the court is telling them that these things are discriminatory and they keep going back to the well over and over and over. It cannot be ignorance at this point. I don’t think it was ever ignorance but it certainly at this point, they definitely know.
MHP: Do you think there is there an asymmetry of information on that? So you’re pointing out that politicians, elected officials always know who votes — where — and how this law will impact those voters. Do Ohio voters also know that information?
EFG: Not everybody does. You know they put out their spin and some people do fall for it. Not everybody realizes it. I hate to say it but some people have short memories and they’ve forgotten how chaotic it was in 2004. You know that was not a proud moment for us as Ohioans. We don’t want to be known as one of the states that have a chaotic election. And so some people have already forgotten that, and that’s why the fight that we’ve been engaging in in the last few days has been helpful because it’s reminding people both the history and what’s at stake.
MHP: Is there any way to make this not a partisan battle? The fact that in two thousand-five, it was the Republican-controlled legislatures that initiated this no-fault absentee ballot. Are there politicians, are there civic groups, are there folks who can actually make this about the quality of voting instead of whether Democrats or Republicans are going to win the next election?
EFG: I hope so, I think it’s really sad and here we are on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. I think it’s sad that we’re still fighting about these issues in any kind of a partisan way. We should have gotten past that as a partisan issue. I will say that, for instance, we passed a voting rights ordinance here in Cuyahoga county, and we received support from organizations like the League of Women voters. I mean unbiased observers of this just say look, these reforms were implemented make sense and they worked! So why would we ever change them? So we just have to hope that there’s people that are listening and following this and that the folks that are pushing this agenda eventually get hurt politically by it and maybe then they can approach this in a non-partisan way in the future.
MHP: Mr. Ed FitzGerald in Cleveland, Ohio, thank you so much.
EFG: My pleasure, thank you.