The National and State Republican Parties have been pushing voter ID laws and other policies aimed at suppressing Democratic voters. These policies have been pursued under the guise of preventing voter fraud. In Pennsylvania, a new Voter ID law could make it almost impossible for over 750,000 registered voters to cast ballots. And in Florida, a federal court has blocked a law signed that restricted the ability of third-party groups to register voters.
If you haven’t been following this issue, you should; it is one of the most important “below the radar” issues in the 2012 election cycle. We recommend you start your reading with this piece from Slate from last October, and then catch up on the recent news with our friends at Talking Points Memo. And remember when we told you about the dangers of ALEC? Turns out this this conservative group is behind a lot of the nationwide voter ID laws.
In Ohio, the federal court just smacked down an effort by John Husted to limit the use of provisional ballots.
Under Ohio law, poll workers must direct voters to the correct precinct for voting – something that is important because in many towns, multiple precincts vote in the same physical location (i.e. in different corners of a school gym). If there is a problem with a particular voter – for example, the voter does not have acceptable ID, then the voter may cast a provisional ballot. The eligibility of the voter’s provisional ballot is then later determined by the board of elections.
In 2010, the Northeast Coalition for the Homeless sued the state of Ohio, alleging in part that Ohio’s provisional ballot laws and rules were unconstitutional. The case was settled by a Consent Decree – and agreed upon Order of a Federal Judge. Among many provisions, the Consent Decree provided that Boards of Elections could not reject a provisional ballot if the ballot was cast in the wrong precinct, but in the correct polling place as a result of poll-worker error. In other words: if a poll worker – NOT the voter – makes a mistake about where a ballot should be cast, the provisional ballot would still be counted.
Husted does not like the Consent Decree. In April, he filed suit in the Ohio Supreme Court trying to get the Ohio Supreme Court to invalidate the Consent Decree. This end run around the Federal Court failed miserably, and the Ohio Supreme Court case was dismissed. The case issue was then pursued in the Federal Court.
The decision of the Federal Court was an almost complete repudiation of Husted’s position. We will spare you the legal details – you can read the opinion on the Mortiz Election Law Page if you are so inclined. Essentially, the court held that Husted could not re-litigate this settled issue and that the Consent Decree did not conflict with Ohio law. The court also received evidence (but did not make explicit findings) that terminating the Consent Decree would create and add to “ongoing constitutional violations in Ohio with respect to provisional ballots.”
So what is going on here? Why does Husted want to punish voters for mistakes made by poll workers? In 2010, a judicial race in Hamilton County turned on provisional ballots that were cast by people who showed up to vote at the correct polling place but were misdirected by poll workers and voted at the wrong precinct table.
Husted possibly believes that casual voters – voters who turn out only for big elections, like the Presidential elections – or new voters are the ones most likely to make a mistake about where to vote, and are the most likely to vote Democratic. If enough ballots get tossed out, then maybe this could swing a close election. Apparently this was important enough to the Republicans to waste resources on litigation.
Husted lost this time – but rest assured this will not be the last of the republican efforts in Ohio to make it difficult for new voters.