Earlier this month I reported how Ohio Republicans were limiting early voting hours in Democratic counties, while expanding them on nights and weekends in Republican counties.
In response to the public outcry, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who intervened in favor of limiting early voting hours in Democratic counties, issued a statewide directive mandating uniform early voting hours in all eighty-eight Ohio counties. Husted kept early voting hours from 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays from October 2 to 19 and broadened hours from 8 am to 7 pm from October 22 to November 2. But he refused to expand early voting hours beyond 7 pm during the week, on weekends or three days prior to the election (which is being challenged in court by the Obama campaign)—when it is most convenient for many working Ohioans to vote. Rather than expanding early voting hours across the state, Husted limited them for everybody. Voter suppression for all!
Montgomery County, Ohio—which includes Dayton—is now at the center of the early voting fight. (Obama won Montgomery County by 6 percent in 2008). On two separate occasions, December 28, 2011, and August 6, 2012, the four-member county board of elections unanimously approved expanded weekday and weekend early voting hours. But in a meeting on August 17, the two Republicans on the board reversed their position and opposed expanding early voting hours. With the committee deadlocked between Democratic and Republican members, Husted broke the tie in favor of the GOP, like he’s done in Cleveland, Columbus, Akron and Toledo.
Yet before breaking the tie, Husted ordered Democratic board members Tom Ritchie Sr. and Dennis Lieberman to hold a new meeting and rescind their votes in favor of early voting. When they refused, arguing that Husted’s directive did not apply to weekend voting, Husted suspended them from the county board of elections. (A third of the 28,000 in-person early voters in Montgomery County in 2008 voted on the weekend.)
“There’s no reason in the world for him to do what he’s doing to us other than to suppress the vote,” Ritchie, who’s served on the board of elections since 1995, told me. At a hearing in Columbus today, Husted’s office will decide whether Ritchie and Lieberman will be permanently suspended. “I fully expect that me and my fellow board member will be removed,” says Ritchie. (UPDATE: a ruling is expected later this week.) If that’s the case, Ritchie and Lieberman plan to appeal their suspension to the Ohio Supreme Court. (He also believes that Husted’s order that the board hold a second meeting on August 17 violated Ohio’s Sunshine Laws, which requires that a government body give twenty-four-hour notice to the media and general public in advance of a public meeting.)