Monday, October 29, 2012

Baseball, Early Voting, Mom, and Apple Pie: According to Husted, One of These Does Not Belong

As reported by the Toledo Blade, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted described a recent federal court decision by the 6th Circuit to require Ohio to offer early voting to all voters as an “un-American approach to voting.” Not unconstitutional, not unauthorized, not difficult to manage, un-American. What in the world does he mean? 

Obama for America v. Husted, the case he is referring to, is a battle in the larger war that has taken place in the courts this election season over a variety of new voting laws. In this case, President Obama’s campaign, and the Democratic National Committee sued Ohio’s Secretary of State to block enforcement of an Ohio law that allowed military and overseas voters to have more in-person early voting opportunities than ordinary voters. Specifically, only military and overseas voters were allowed to early vote in the three days before the election. Ohio justified this policy by saying military families face unique challenges in voting and that it was too difficult to administer early voting for all voters during this period. The District Court concluded that this law was a violation of the Equal Protection clause and granted an injunction, which has since been upheld by the Sixth Circuit. The U.S. Supreme Court recently denied Ohio’s request for a stay of this injunction. While the case matters for voters in Ohio, it is by-and-large an election administration issue, which shouldn’t ordinarily rise to the level of un-American activities. So, what is Mr. Husted’s problem?

Most likely he means that the court decision intrudes on states’ rights to administer elections without interference. While Mr. Husted may feel this way, there is an extensive history of federal courts imposing their will on states when states are not running elections in a constitutional way. While Mr. Husted’s comments may rest on states’ rights ideology, he described the decision as an “un-American approach to voting” not an un-American approach to election administration or the treatment of states, which indicates that something else is at work in these comments.

Maybe he means that what President Obama’s campaign is asking will result in a denial of easy access to the polls by servicemen and women. It seems some military organizations do believe this, as many expressed support for Husted. However, as is clear from OFA’s brief, that isn’t at all what they want. What the plaintiffs sought in this case was equal access to the polls for military and ordinary voters. The plaintiffs did not want Ohio to end early voting in the 3-day period before the election. Instead, they wanted to ensure that all eligible voters had the opportunity to vote in that period. Though Mr. Husted could have reacted to the decision by eliminating all early voting in the 3-day period, he instead instituted limited hours early voting for all parties. However, the decision was entirely Mr. Husted’s, so he can’t mean that the decision was un-American because it denied early voting access to military families.

The only conclusion left is that Mr. Husted thinks early voting is in some way un-American. While some consider early voting dangerous and many Republicans don’t like it for a variety of reasons, it seems pretty out-there to suggest early voting is un-American. The general consensus is that early voting creates more access to the polls and helps to eliminate burdens for a variety of voters, which ultimately helps in effective election administration. The typical early voter is more likely than an election-day voter to be member of a minority group. In a country with such a terrible history of voter suppression, any policy that improves minority voter access with no impact on election integrity should be implemented immediately. It is simply common-sense.

So why does Mr. Husted so disfavor early voting for non-military voters? While not wanting to impugn the motives of an elected official of the great state of Ohio, it seems that politics may lie closer to the heart Husted’s declaration than he might have Ohio voters believe. Minority voters tend to vote for Democrats. Military voters tend to be Republicans. With other excuses eliminated, it seems only one answer is left.

Improving access to the polls? That has been the direction of American history with Americans from the American Revolution to the Civil Rights Movements fighting and dying for access to the polls.
Opposing easier voter access at all costs because you don’t like who votes? Now that sounds un-American.

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