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Ohio Defying Court Intent On Early Voting – Intimidation Billboards In Black Neighborhoods

Despite a U.S. Supreme Court rejection of Ohio’s appeal of a lower federal court ruling to restrict three-days of early voting, the state’s chief elections officer, Republican Secretary of State, Jon Husted is now limiting the in-person voting hours during those three days immediately preceding the November 6th General Election. As reported today by thinkprogress.org, “…despite multiple court defeats, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted is determined to restrict early voting as much as he can get away with.

On August 31st, in a 23-page ruling, Federal Judge, Peter Economus, granted a Preliminary Injunction (PDF)in a suit brought by President Obama’s campaign, stating,

“A citizen has a constitutionally protected right to participate in elections on an equal basis with other citizens in the jurisdiction.” In Ohio, that right to participate equally has been abridged by Ohio Revised Code ‘ 3509.03 and the Ohio Secretary of State’s further interpretation of that statute with regard to in-person early voting. In 2005, Ohio expanded participation in absentee balloting and in-person early voting to include all registered Ohio voters. Now, “in-person early voting” has been redefined by the Ohio legislature to limit Plaintiffs’ access to the polls. This Court must determine whether preliminary injunctive relief should be granted to Plaintiffs on their claim that Ohio’s restriction of in-person early voting deprives them of their fundamental right to vote. Following Supreme Court precedent, this Court concludes that Plaintiffs have stated a constitutional claim that is likely to succeed on the merits. As a result—and as explained below—this Court grants Plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction.

On October 5th, a Sixth Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals decision upheld the injunction (PDF), restoring the three-days of early voting for all Ohioans, not just for the military, which had been the crux of the Constitutional “equal protection under the law” basis of the suit. Nevertheless, controversial Republican Secretary of State, Jon Husted—who has even fired two local Board of Elections officials, who voted to extend early voting, similar to the hours Ohio voters enjoyed in 2008—had appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which just rejected even considering his appeal.

Undaunted, and still smarting from an earlier court order to appear and explain himself, which caused him to initially back down and comply with the ruling, Husted has now imposed further polling hour restrictions for those final three days, in a brazen attempt to suppress voter turnout among predominately Democratic leaning demographics in heavily populated urban counties, which are expected to turn out heavily for President Obama. As reported by Think Progress,

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted swiftly limited early voting hours on those crucial three days to 8 am–2 pm on Saturday, November 3; 1–5 pm on Sunday, November 4; and 8 am–2 pm on Monday, November 5. That means Ohio voters will have a total of only sixteen hours to cast a ballot during those three days. And before the weekend before the election, Ohio voters will still not be able to cast a ballot in-person on nights or weekends.

The changes to early voting procedures and hours were enacted by Ohio after the 2004 Election, which was marred by malfunctioning voting machines, intimidation of African-American voters, long lines and several court actions to keep polls open hours after their scheduled closing time due to thousands of voters who had been waiting in the cold to cast their ballot. Many voters simply gave up and returned home without voting. George Bush won Ohio in 2004 by less than 120,000 votes (out of 5.6 million cast), so a ‘swing’ of just 60,000 votes would have given the state’s then 20-Electoral Votes to Democrat John Kerry, and the presidency.

As of this report, it is unknown as to who is behind the mysterious threatening billboards cropping up in Black neighborhoods and voting precincts, but it is known that right-wing, Tea Party affiliated voter suppression and intimidation groups such as True The Vote and the Ohio Voter Integrity Project have been active in trying to purge voter rolls and recruit vigilante poll watchers in Ohio and throughout the nation in an effort to intimidate voters and defeat President Obama under the guise of eliminating voter fraud, of which there has been no evidence or proof.

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