It’s Time for Republican Secretary of State to Drop Suppression Attempts
COLUMBUS – In response to today’s U.S. Sixth Circuit decision upholding the federal district court decision declaring Jon Husted’s directive and other efforts to cut early voting in Ohio before the November general elections as an unconstitutional violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern issued the following statement:
“Jon Husted’s tenure as Secretary of State has been one partisan, unconstitutional scheme after another to make it harder for Ohioans to vote that has cost taxpayers over $400,000 in taxpayer money to defend. With early voting beginning in just six days, it’s time for Jon Husted to drop any further appeals, as he has caused enough voter confusion already. Ohioans deserve a Secretary of State that will fight for expansive voting opportunities for working middle class families, not contribute to voter confusion with last ditch appeals. That is why Ohioans are looking to elect State Senator Nina Turner to be the next Secretary of State.”
An August poll conducted by Public Policy Polling on behalf of the Ohio Democratic Party showed Jon Husted narrowly ahead of Senator Nina Turner by 46% to 43%.
Three major Ohio editorials made it clear that these bills were being passed for no other reason than deny likely Democratic voters the vote before the 2014 election. The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s editorial said that the measures “aim to limit voting by Ohioans who might vote for Democrats” and called passage of the bills “an affront to democracy” that allowed politicians to “pick their own voters.” [Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer (2/19/2014), “Ohio House Republicans should walk away from bills aimed at decreasing the ease of voting in Ohio”]
The Toledo Blade editorial said the bills “would make it harder to vote among citizens whom GOP politicians would rather keep away from the polls.” On the GOP argument that the bills were need to fight “voter fraud,” the Blade noted “[t]hat argument would be more credible if those who make it could point to specific examples of fraud in Ohio voting that their measures would prevent. But they can’t offer evidence of systematic fraud, because it doesn’t exist. These bad measures aren’t as blatant as the poll taxes and literacy tests that Southern elections officials used during the civil rights era a half-century ago to keep African-Americans from voting. But their effect is largely, and intolerably, the same, and their approval would seem to invite court challenges under federal voting rights law.” [Source: Toledo Blade (2/19/14), “Don’t suppress the vote”]
The Akron Beacon Journal editorial noted that the Republicans decided that “[r]ather than work in a bipartisan way on a comprehensive overhaul of election laws, the Republican-run legislature has proceeded on its own unfortunate course. This week, the Ohio House is working on bills that push aside important priorities and contain flaws that would make voting more difficult.” [Source: Akron Beacon Journal (2/18/2014), “Election partisans”]
Jon Husted supported cutting early voting days by a week. According to theColumbus Dispatch, Secretary of State Husted recommends that “early voting would instead start 29 days before the election” but it end during the afternoon “the Sunday before the general election.” Currently, Ohio law permits early voting for thirty-five days before the general election. [Source: Columbus Dispatch, (10/24/2013), “Husted promotes limits on early voting.”
Federal courts had already ruled that Husted’s prior attempts to cut general election early voting days were illegal. In 2012, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Ohio ruled that Ohio could not cut off early voting the Friday before the general election. Republicans attempted to reduce the number of days of early voting, but the Ohio General Assembly reversed them after HB 194 was threatened with a referendum campaign. [Source: Reuters (8/31/12), “Court overturns Ohio early voting restrictions in win for Democrats.”]
The decision to declare Republicans’ attempt to cut off early voting before Election Day was unconstitutional was upheld by federal appellate courts. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision declaring the restriction “unconstitutional.” “The court acknowledged an argument that ‘low-income and minority voters are disproportionately affected by elimination’ of the three days of polling for many voters and said ‘there is no definitive evidence… that elections boards would be tremendously burdened’ by returning poll access to the standard before recent changes to the state’s laws.”
[Source: CNN (10/5/2012), “Federal court upholds Ohio early voting ruling.”]
According to official records maintained by Jon Husted’s own office, more than 600,000 Ohioans used Early Voting in 2012. [Source: Ohio Secretary of State’s website, 2012 “Absentee Ballot Report.”]
Sixth Circuit Upholds Order to Restore ‘Golden Week,’ Early Voting;
Husted to Ask for En Banc Review
The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday backed a U.S. district court judge’s order to restore an overlap period between the end of voter registration and the beginning of early voting, saying the state and General Assembly did not prove that interests in preventing fraud and saving money outweigh burdens on poor and minority voters.
The ruling clears the way for voters to start casting early ballots on Tuesday, Sept. 30, rather than the day after voter registration ends on Oct. 6. However, Secretary of State Jon Husted said he believed the decision was wrong and was going to ask for an en banc review by the entire appeals court.
“This case is about Ohioans’ right to vote for the public officials that make the rules and laws we live under, and yet, this ruling eliminates elected officials’ ability to do what we elected them to do. That’s wrong and I must appeal this case,” Husted said in a statement. “Whether we vote 35 or 28 days, by mail or in person this November, elected officials and not federal judges should be making Ohio law.”
In a 46-page decision, the appeals court upheld the preliminary injunction issued by Judge Peter Economus, who ruled that SB238 (LaRose) eliminating Golden Week, the name given to the overlap period of voter registration and early voting, and a directive by Husted setting uniform early in-person (EIP) voting would cause a burden to poor voters and African Americans who use the eliminated days and hours more than other voters.
The appeals court found that Economus did not err by using data provided by plaintiffs’ experts in the case to make his decision to issue the order, nor when the district judge gave more weight to a plaintiff’s expert who testified to how much the affected populations use early in-person voting over the testimony of a defendant’s expert who said it was difficult to conclude that early voting enhances African American turnout.
“In sum, we hold that the district court’s characterization of the overall burden imposed by SB238 and Directive 2014-17 as significant, but not severe, was not clearly erroneous given the extensive evidence in the record of the burdens African American, lower-income, and homeless voters will face in voting, absent the times eliminated by SB238 and Directive 2014-17,” the appeals court said in its opinion.
The appeals court noted that the standard that it used to weigh the burdens does not have to take into account other opportunities to vote during the early voting period, but rather if eliminating those days and hours would burden the affected populations.
It also rejected arguments that Ohio has more early voting than in other states, writing, “Early voting does not necessarily play the same role in all jurisdictions in ensuring that certain groups of voters are actually able to vote. Thus, the same law may impose a significant burden in one state and only a minimal burden in another. Similarly, a particular state may have stronger justifications for a law that burdens voters than other states with the same law.”
The appeals court said the state and the General Assembly did not prove its interests in preventing fraud and saving money outweighed the burdens.
“Defendants did not provide more than a handful of actual examples of voter fraud, and their general testimony regarding the difficulties of verifying voter registration before counting ballots did not clearly pertain to problems with Golden Week specifically. The district court properly identified that the specific concern defendants expressed regarding voter fraud — that the vote of an EIP voter would be counted before his or her registration could be verified — was not logically linked to concerns with voting and registering on the same day, but rather ‘has more to do with the registration process and verification of absentee ballots’ generally,” the court wrote.
The court also said there was no explanation as to why it would be harder to segregate and count later the absentee ballots of individuals who registered the same day during Golden Week as opposed to segregating absentee ballots that are returned a different way, “particularly given that officials would have at least 30 days to verify the registration of those who register and vote during Golden Week.”
The ACLU of Ohio said the decision “ensures the people’s voices will be heard at the ballot box without obstacles.”
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern urged Husted to drop any further appeals, “as he has caused enough voter confusion already.”
“Jon Husted’s tenure as secretary of state has been one partisan, unconstitutional scheme after another to make it harder for Ohioans to vote that has cost taxpayers over $400,000 in taxpayer money to defend,” Redfern said.
Story originally published in The Hannah Report on September 24, 2014.
Copyright 2014 Hannah News Service, Inc.