The Ohio state Senate was set to consider this week what critics are calling the most restrictive voter identification law in the country. The push for restrictive voter ID measures in the Buckeye state is part of a trend of similar legislation sweeping Republican-controlled legislatures across the country. But Ohio’s measure is so restrictive — it requires the photo IDs to be issued by the state, so voters couldn’t identify themselves with their full Social Security numbers — that it lost the support of Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted.
“I want to be perfectly clear, when I began working with the General Assembly to improve Ohio’s elections system it was never my intent to reject valid votes,” Husted said in a short statement posted on his official website.
“I would rather have no bill than one with a rigid photo identification provision that does little to protect against fraud and excludes legally registered voters’ ballots from counting,” Husted said.
“I do not believe this is in any way a voter suppression issue,” said Tom Niehaus, the Republican President of the Senate. “This is about maintaining the integrity of the voting process.”
The Ohio Secretary of State is now admitting this legislation will “exclude legally registered voter’s ballots from counting”. He’s also denying it was ever his intent to “reject valid votes”. The GOP majority leader is denying “voter suppression”. He “does not believe” this is a voter suppression attempt. Finally. After 10 years of absolute bullshit on voter impersonation fraud, we’re getting down to what’s really going on here.
Don’t get too excited about Secretary of State Husted’s sudden and mystifying attack of conscience. He doesn’t have a great record, and he’s only been in office since January. His behavior in a 2011 case involving provisional ballots doesn’t inspire confidence. Second class (provisional) ballots are less likely to be counted, because provisional ballots introduce an element of pollworker, election employee, and election official discretion that just doesn’t come into play with a first class ballot. The chaotic mess that resulted when a close 2010 Ohio judicial race went to recount (that I’ve described below) is a good example of that.
Briefly, there was a very close race for juvenile judge in a county in Ohio in 2010. The results turned on whether provisional ballots were to be reviewed or excluded. The voters involved cast their provisional ballots correctly but due to pollworker error, those second class “provisional” ballots were accepted at the wrong precinct table. Hundreds of provisional ballots were thrown into question, and they came out of majority Democratic precincts.
It went to court, where conservatives won the right to exclude provisional ballots in the state supreme court. A federal court disagreed, and ordered that a review be conducted to determine whether the votes could be counted. Secretary Husted cast the tie-breaker vote to appeal that federal court decision. The case is complex. It now involves advocates for voters relying on Bush v. Gore – which is always amusing, in a bitter, sad way- to use that absolute piece of garbage decision against conservatives, and it goes on from where I stopped. You may read the details here, here and here.
Provisional ballots were the fail-safe, the back-up, and we were assured by conservative lawyers and judges that the provisional balloting process would prevent the disenfranchisement of valid voters. But provisional balloting is complicated- it involves several additional steps, more than one piece of paper, and lots and lots of pollworker instructions to the voter. Each step introduces the possibility of voter error, pollworker error, or a blatantly partisan discretionary call by an elections official or employee. The supposed “fail-safe” conservatives assured us would protect voting rights doesn’t work as intended, and in truth introduces a whole new set of problems.
If you want to see how bad it can get for voters who are shunted to a second-class ballot, follow the links above and wade through the thousands of pages of legal filings that resulted from one county court judicial race. Each one of those provisional ballots represents a voter, and each and every one of those voters is now at risk of having their vote thrown out, in a race that turned on a 23 vote difference. Every voter that entered that polling place has the right to assume their vote will be treated in a fair and equitable manner, and that’s not happening. Instead, we have a viciously partisan battle that has (so far) involved 4 courts and three conflicting decisions. And, what about the voters who had the misfortune to cast those second class ballots? Where are they in all this? Long forgotten. They don’t matter.
Every time I write about voting rights I get comments asking what Democrats or liberals are doing in states like Ohio to protect voters. There is a conference call for voting enthusiasts scheduled on July 15th, here in Ohio, and, as I mentioned, Vice President Biden raised the issue when he addressed Ohio Democrats last weekend. So, it’s on the radar and there will be a plan to help qualified voters get and vote a first class ballot. How well the plan will work, and how many legitimate votes by disfavored groups will be excluded, I do not know. Conservatives are constantly changing the rules, and it’s always a challenge to keep up with their endlessly creative and novel interpretations of what’s required to vote and have the vote counted.