Florida Governor Rick Scott is probably loving that the spotlight is off of him and his purge program (and his True the Vote allies) thanks to Hurricane Isaac—and to Ohio, the latest bad boy on the voting rights block. The Buckeye’s Secretary of State Jon Husted was upset by a federal district judge yesterday who blocked the secretary’s effort to limit the use of provisional ballots. The state already leads the nation in the number of provisional ballots dropped in the garbage.
The judge ruled that provisional ballots that are cast by voters whom poll workers send to the wrong voting precinct should still be counted. In so-called “right church, wrong pew” incidents, voters who otherwise would have had an eligible vote, save for a poll worker’s mistake, should not be disenfranchised, according to the opinion from Judge Algenon Marbley in SEIU v. Husted.
Ohio is not the only state that punishes voters for casting ballots at the wrong precinct, even through no fault of their own, but the state is a standout. In the 2008 election, Ohio rejected almost 40,000 provisional ballots, 14,335 of which were disposed of because a voter voted in the wrong precinct. Judge Marbley said that every “documented instance in the record of a correct location/wrong precinct ballot being disqualified was the result of the poll worker failing in his or her statutory duty.”
Husted’s spokesman said that the secretary of state “respectfully disagrees” and that the state would likely appeal.
“For too long, Ohio had simply turned a blind eye to the rampant errors that resulted in voters’ being provided the wrong ballots, and then used said errors as an excuse to throw those votes away,” said Penda Hair, co-director of Advancement Project, which joined the suit with the SEIU.
Husted’s fight against the inclusion of votes inadvertently cast in the wrong precinct goes against his oft-repeated phrase that he is “committed to making voting uniform, easy, fair and secure.” It’s hard to make an argument that the status quo was “fair”; if poll workers wanted to throw an election they could deliberately misdirect voters to the wrong precinct, and do so without punishment.
Ohio is embroiled in a heavily contested redistricting process, which likely will lead to confused voters, confused poll workers and confusing transactions between both. In such cases, why shouldn’t the franchise bend towards allowing participation in democracy, as opposed to giving the benefit to a mistake that would lead to exclusion from democracy?
The same day of this ruling, Husted fired two county election officials for defying his orders to strip away weekend voting from the early voting period. Husted’s early voting surgery effectively kills off black churches’ “souls to the polls” campaign, which delivered black churchgoers to voting booths right after church service on the Sunday before Election Day. The Obama campaign is suing the state to have the weekend days reinstated.
So here’s Husted’s score so far on democracy: he eliminates a day known statewide for increased black voter turnout; he fires two elections officials who dared to try to restore those days; he fights for the right to throw away the votes of those who were misdirected by poll workers.
But that’s not all. With all of the perceptions swirling around Husted that his new election rules were burdening black voters, he chose to participate in a summit hosted by True the Vote, which carries a reputation for voter intimidation and deceptive practices. He was scheduled to speak at an Ohio True the Vote summit on Saturday, August 25, right before Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch, who believes President Obama plans to steal the November election with “illegal alien” votes.
After our investigative report detailing True the Vote’s quickly expanding intimidation network, and follow-up reporting from Rachel Maddow on the group, Husted quietly dropped out of the summit’s speaker line up. His deputy press secretary, Alexis Zoldan, said his disappearance was due to a “change in his schedule,” but would not elaborate on that schedule change.
Like Florida, Ohio has a sordid history with voting rights over the last few presidential elections. Also like Florida, True the Vote’s dark shadow is cast upon the state. It’s worth noting that both states are essential for victory in November, but more importantly the precedents set, and the brazen attitude of Husted about it, is putting democracy in peril.