Once again, political experts are predicting that the 2012 presidential election could be decided in the battleground state of Ohio, like it was in 2004.
Remember what happened that year? George W. Bush won the state by a narrow 118,000 votes in an election marred by widespread electoral dysfunction. “The misallocation of voting machines led to unprecedented long lines that disenfranchised scores, if not hundreds of thousands, of predominantly minority and Democratic voters,” found a post-election report by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee. According to one survey, 174,000 Ohioans, 3 percent of the electorate, left their polling place without voting because of massive lines in urban precincts and on college campuses. Ohio’s Secretary of State that year was Ken Blackwell, co-chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.
Ohio’s GOP secretary of state in 2012, Jon Husted, is proving to be a worthy successor to Blackwell. He has banned early voting hours on nights and weekends in Ohio, when it is most convenient for most Ohioans to vote, has fired Democratic election commissioners who challenge his voting restrictions, and is now appealing a court decision reinstating early voting on the three days prior to the election—which the GOP eliminated except for members of the military—to the US Supreme Court. Early voting has already begun in Ohio, but four weeks out until the election, Husted is doing his damndest to confuse the hell out of Ohio voters and undermine their voting rights.
Early voting emerged as a popular reform in Ohio in response to the 2004 election. Nearly 30 percent of Ohioans voted early in 2008. It was only after Barack Obama built a huge lead among early voters in 2008 that Republicans decided to curtail early voting following the 2010 election.
One hundred and forty-eight thousand votes were cast in 2008 during early voting hours eliminated by Husted and the Ohio GOP. The restrictions on early voting disproportionately harm African-American voters, who just so happen to be Obama’s strongest supporters in the state. African-Americans comprise 21 percent of the population in Franklin (Columbus) and Montgomery (Dayton) counties, 24 percent in Hamilton County (Cincinnati) and 28 percent in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) but accounted for 31 percent, 52 percent, 42 percent and 56 percent of early voters in the respective counties in 2008. (Nearly half of early voters in Franklin County in 2008 cast ballots on nights or weekends.) “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine,” Franklin County Republican Chair Doug Preisse infamously told the Columbus Dispatch in August. Black voters in Cuyahoga County used in-person early voting at a rate twenty-six times greater than whites in 2008, according to a new study by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.