By The Plain Dealer and Northeast Ohio Media Group Editorial Board
The best-known job of Ohio’s secretary of state is to be the state’s chief elections officer. Even though incumbent Republican Jon Husted has handled all other aspects of the job with distinction over the past four years – including the practical side of elections management – and even though he has been a voice of reason on redistricting reform, his miscues, mistakes and outright partisan manipulation of the state’s early-voting rules disqualify him for a second term (highlights added).
With her passionate advocacy for easier voting access, Nina Turner, the Democratic state senator from Cleveland for the 25th District, better exemplifies the priorities Ohio’s chief elections officer must have.
“As secretary of state, for me, it’s about making sure that you expand and protect that access to the ballot box,” Turner, 46, said during the endorsement interview, adding that it doesn’t matter what voters’ “political affiliation is; [I’ll be] pro-voter. The voter will always be at the center of my universe.”
We take Turner at her word on that, as someone who stood up to Democratic Party insiders during the battle over Cuyahoga County reforms. At the same time, worryingly, she’s been strongly partisan during this campaign. The see-saw partisanship of Ohio’s secretary of state, depending on which party holds the office, has ill-served the state and needs to change. Turner must resolve to change it.
Libertarian Kevin Knedler, 60, of Delaware, a sales manager for Scotts Miracle-Gro, decries the way Ohio’s major parties try to elbow aside third-party candidates. He’s passionate, but it’s not clear he would be more than a single-issue secretary of state.
Husted, 47, strongly defends his decisions on early, in-person voting as stemming from a “bipartisan” consensus of the state’s elections professionals. But the state’s chief elections officer must protect all Ohioans’ voting rights and not narrow those rights unequally. Under Husted, those rights have frayed, including through his directives to restrict hours and days for early, in-person voting and to deny local boards of elections the right to set their own hours.
Husted – knowing the state’s sorry history of partisanship in election rules (partisanship that infects both Republicans and Democrats, depending on who’s in power) – could have put himself above the fray and defended ballot access, as he’s wisely fought the GOP-run legislature against photo voter ID and for online voter registration.
But he did not. Instead, the Supreme Court issued a stay, on a request jointly filed by Husted, the day before early voting was to begin, causing confusion throughout Ohio.
The secretary of state is both a manager and a policymaker. Husted is a good manager. He’s hired a quality staff. He’s invigorated the office. As one example, Husted has sped business incorporation and registration services to enterprises large and small. That’s vital in an Ohio that wants to encourage investment. On the elections side, all in all, Ohio elections are better run now than they once were, thanks to Husted and county elections boards which, ultimately, answer to him.
But Husted stands on the wrong side of early-voting rules that unjustly target minority and low-income voters’ early, in-person voting opportunities.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Peter Economus ruled that a law Gov. John Kasich signed that, among other things, eliminated “Golden Week” when voters can register to vote and vote at the same time and a Husted election directive both illegally restricted early, in-person voting that is heavily used by minority and low-income Ohio voters. Economus ordered Ohio to restore Golden Week; to restore evening hours; and to restore early, in-person voting on two pre-election Sundays, not just one.
Husted appealed to the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel upheld Economus’ ruling. Husted appealed next to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided 5-4 to put the District Court’s ruling on hold. Net result: There’ll be fewer early, in-person voting days this election than Economus ruled justice demanded.
Turner says the secretary of state should maximize voting opportunities, not shave them. Husted counters that Ohioans continue to have far more options to vote absentee and early, in person, than do voters in many other states.
But the test isn’t what other states do, but what Ohioans need – and have come to expect. Nina Turner better embodies those expectations, which is why voters should make her Ohio’s next secretary of state.
Read the Plain Dealer’s endorsement article, which includes a link to audio from the editorial board meeting.