Yet Another Voter Suppression Attempt in Ohio

Yet Another Voter Suppression Attempt in Ohio November 5, 2012

Ohio Republicans, especially Sec. of State Jon Husted, are pulling out all the stops to suppress voting as much as humanly possible, even if they have to break the law to do it. At the last minute, Husted has issued instructions to election clerks on how to deal with provisional ballots that are cast — instructions that are in clear conflict with Ohio law.

Provisional ballots are cast under several possible circumstances. When a voter appears to vote and is registered, but not on the rolls at that particular precinct, if records show that they requested an absentee ballot, or if there is some other reason to believe that they either aren’t a legal voter or have already voted, they would cast a provisional ballot. This sort of thing happens when someone goes to the wrong polling place to vote, for instance, or if they requested an absentee ballot because they thought they were going to be out of town but then their plans changed. Those ballots are counted later, after it is confirmed that the person is registered and has not already cast a ballot.

So Husted’s new order says that the voter has to fill out an affidavit that affirms their identity and has to certify what form of identification they are showing to confirm who they are. But Ohio state law says that election officials should fill out that portion of the affirmation, after they are shown the identification. So if someone checks the wrong box, their vote now won’t get counted. Here’s the relevant state law:

Ohio Rev. Code § 3505.181(B)(6) provides that, once a voter casting a provisional ballot proffers identification, “the appropriate local election official shall record the type of identification provided, the social security number information, the fact that the affirmation was executed, or the fact that the individual declined to execute such an affirmation and include that information with the transmission of the ballot…”

This isn’t going to hurt a lot of people, of course, but it could prevent at least some legal voters from having their vote counted at all. In fact, Husted’s instructions specify that if the wrong box is checked, that vote won’t be counted.

What’s going on here is essentially death by a thousand cuts. Photo ID laws, restrictions on voter registration efforts, shorter early voting periods, last minute rules like this, robocalls telling people their polling place has changed or the date of the election has changed (these happen every election, nearly always traced to Republican groups), putting the wrong election date on a mailer here and there, having “observers” in the polls to challenge every voter they can (always in heavily Democratic districts, of course), it’s all part of the same effort to suppress voting as much as possible. Sure, the courts will knock them down on a law in this state, a policy in that state, but if they can prevent a few people from voting or having their vote counted in a thousand different places, it can swing a close election.

A suit has already been filed on this, as has happened with several other actions Husted has taken in Ohio.

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