(Voter info below.) Some Ohio citizens may find it easier to vote this election thanks to recent rulings that blocked two Republican tries at vote suppression. In one case, Republicans challenged same day registration and voting, claiming that a newly-registered voter must wait 30 days (the amount of time between the registration deadline and election day) to apply for an absentee ballot.x80 Yesterday, both the Ohio Supreme Court and a federal judge ruled against the Republicans, and a voter will be able, for one week starting today, to register and submit an absentee ballot at the elections board on the same day.x81 Another case concerned the typical Republican practice of “vote caging” — using a returned piece of mail to challenge and cancel a voter’s registration.x82x83x90 To get such returned mail, Ohio Republicans eyed two sources: the non-forwardable registration notice cards that all county election boards must send, and mortgage foreclosure lists.x84x85 But, earlier this month, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner ruled that county boards could not cancel a registration based solely on a returned card, and that a voter must get due process — a hearing where faced with the evidence against one — before one’s registration could be canceled.x86x88
Ohio Voter Information
- Register by Monday, October 6th: If registering by mail, the envelope must be postmarked on or before October 6th. You can also register in person at a public library, motor vehicle bureau or county board of elections. For info and an online form to fill in and print out CLICK HERE.
- Check your registration: The State of Ohio now provides a search form to check that you are registered and give your polling location — CLICK HERE. If the online search does not find your registration, you can call your county elections board to check — for a directory of elections boards CLICK HERE.
- Absentee ballot: You can vote an absentee ballot by mail or in person at the elections board, without giving a reason, from Tuesday, September 30th, till the day before the election — INFO HERE. For an online absentee ballot request form to fill in and print out CLICK HERE
- Register and Vote same day: You can register and vote an absentee ballot the same day, from Tuesday, September 30th, through Monday, October 6th, at your county elections board office — for a directory of elections boards CLICK HERE.
- Vote (and bring ID): Election day is Tuesday, November 4th, voting hours are from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Bring your driver’s license, state photo ID or an ID showing your voter registration address, such as a utility bill — INFO HERE. For an Ohio sample ballot CLICK HERE.
- No vote challenges allowed at polling places: In 2004, long lines at some polling places were further slowed by Republican vote challengers. State law now requires challenges to be issued before election day.x91x87
- Contribute: You can contribute to state candidates and get your money back as a credit on your Ohio income tax — up to $50 filing singly, or $100 filing jointly. The credit applies to these offices: governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, auditor of state, treasurer of state, attorney general, member of the state board of education, chief justice of the supreme court, justice of the supreme court, or member of the general assembly.x89
Every newly registered early and absentee voter in Ohio — not just those who apply to vote an in-person absentee ballot— could be affected if the court decides that the Republicans’ interpretation of the law is correct and that a voter must be registered for 30 days prior to applying for an absentee ballot. Local officials probably do not currently check all absentee voters’ records to make sure the voter has been registered for 30 days before issuing an early or absentee ballot. However, with this lawsuit, the Republicans are now seeking to make that the practice. Changing the process by which local officials process ballot applications and distribute absentee ballots this late in the election season could cause substantial confusion and disorder.
For weeks, the Ohio GOP accused the state’s Democratic elections chief of interpreting early voting law to benefit her own party in a crucial swing state.
But the Republican-dominated Ohio Supreme Court decided on Monday that Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner was following the law when she ruled there is a six-day window in which voters can register and vote at the same time.
The decision — also backed by two separate federal judges — means election officials are preparing for the rush of early voting Tuesday, the first day absentee ballots are accepted in advance of the Nov. 4 presidential election.
The Republican National Committee has been under a federal consent decree not to engage in the practice since getting caught in the 1981 gubernatorial election in New Jersey. Despite the injunction, which remains in effect, vote caging schemes continue to be used as an integral part of an ongoing campaign to suppress minority voting rights.
To bring these schemes to an end will require vigorous prosecution by the United States Department of Justice. But the Department’s priorities have shifted over the years, with the Bush-Ashcroft-Gonzales Justice Department not only ignoring vote caging schemes, but actively working to give them a boost in the courts.
“Sometimes vote suppression is as important in this business as vote-getting.” – Carl Golden, Republican Campaign Spokesperson
Vote caging is an illegal voter suppression technique used to keep minorities (mostly blacks) from voting. It’s a relatively-unknown cousin in the nefarious family of vote suppression techniques. The practice has been adopted and perverted from a practice utilized by direct-mailers to clean up their mailing lists by sending out mail to specific individuals and seeing what comes back. The real problems start when political operatives start cherry picking areas likely to vote against their candidates. And it’s inextricably connected to concerns about the politicization of the Justice Department being raised on Capitol Hill.
Kevin DeWine, a Republican in the Ohio State House of Representatives who authored the 2006 law, says it is not an undue burden on people whose mail is returned to show an identification card at the voting booth or to vote provisionally. “People think provisional ballots are a bad thing,” he said. “I think they are a safeguard on the integrity of the ballots.”
As for Ohio, the initial story there suggested that an Ohio GOP official would not rule out the possibility that the party would challenge voters at the polls stating. Quoting the Franklin County GOP chairman, the Columbus Dispatch reported that Priesse “didn’t rule out challenges before Nov. 4.”
The latest story this week on possible efforts to challenge foreclosed voters came from the NY Times, and contained this passage: “Asked whether his party planned to use foreclosure information to compile challenge lists, Robert Bennett, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, said the party did not discuss its election strategies in public.” While this is not an admission that a plan exists to use foreclosure lists to challenge voters, it sure isn’t a denial either.
Providing guidance to local election officials, Secretary Brunner directed that 60-day notices sent by boards of election to voters that are returned as undeliverable cannot be used as the sole reason for cancelling an Ohioan’s voter registration. These notices are required by law to be sent to voters by boards of elections.
Secretary Brunner also called on the General Assembly to amend this voter registration challenge law passed in 2006, urging that the law conflicts with federal law and violates the U.S. Constitution.
In Friday’s directive, Secretary Brunner also advised boards of elections that providing due process on challenges to voter registrations will diminish the likelihood of election lawsuits that can disrupt election planning and administration. The directive requires: providing every challenged voter with notice and an opportunity to be heard; holding a public hearing on all challenges; and holding all hearings prior to Election Day.
Although pre-election challenges still are possible, state law now bars party challengers at polling places.
A review conducted by her lawyers found that the state law violates federal voting rights laws and the U.S. Constitution, making Ohio counties vulnerable to lawsuits should they use the returned mail as the sole reason for canceling a registration, Brunner said.
Undelivered election notices become public records when they are returned to county boards of elections. A political party could then file a public records request and challenge those voters’ eligibility, especially in precincts where the opposite party has a majority. The process is known as “vote caging.”
The 2006 law enables local election officials to side with the challengers before giving the voters a chance to respond, Brunner said.
Any Ohioan who pays state income tax is entitled to claim a 100 % tax credit for contributions to Ohio candidates, up to a limit of $50 per individual or $100 for two persons filing jointly. The tax credit applies only to statewide (including the Ohio Supreme Court but not including U.S. Senate) and to state legislative candidates.
To stem the tide of new registrations, the Republican National Committee and the Ohio Republican Party attempted to knock tens of thousands of predominantly minority and urban voters off the rolls through illegal mailings known in electioneering jargon as ‘‘caging.’‘ During the Eighties, after the GOP used such mailings to disenfranchise nearly 76,000 black voters in New Jersey and Louisiana, it was forced to sign two separate court orders agreeing to abstain from caging.(63) But during the summer of 2004, the GOP targeted minority voters in Ohio by zip code, sending registered letters to more than 200,000 newly registered voters(64) in sixty-five counties.(65) On October 22nd, a mere eleven days before the election, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett — who also chairs the board of elections in Cuyahoga County — sought to invalidate the registrations of 35,427 voters who had refused to sign for the letters or whose mail came back as undeliverable.(66) Almost half of the challenged voters were from Democratic strongholds in and around Cleveland.(67)
There were plenty of valid reasons that voters had failed to respond to the mailings: The list included people who couldn’t sign for the letters because they were serving in the U.S. military, college students whose school and home addresses differed,(68) and more than 1,000 homeless people who had no permanent mailing address.(69) But the undeliverable mail, Bennett claimed, proved the new registrations were fraudulent.
By law, each voter was supposed to receive a hearing before being stricken from the rolls.(70) Instead, in the week before the election, kangaroo courts were rapidly set up across the state at Blackwell’s direction that would inevitably disenfranchise thousands of voters at a time(71) — a process that one Democratic election official in Toledo likened to an ‘‘inquisition.’‘(72) Not that anyone was given a chance to actually show up and defend their right to vote: Notices to challenged voters were not only sent out impossibly late in the process, they were mailed to the very addresses that the Republicans contended were faulty.(73) Adding to the atmosphere of intimidation, sheriff’s detectives in Sandusky County were dispatched to the homes of challenged voters to investigate the GOP‘s claims of fraud.(74) — LaRaye Brown, ‘‘Elections Board Plans Hearing For Challenges,’‘ The News Messenger, October 26, 2004.
In another move certain to add to the traffic jam at the polls, the GOP deployed 3,600 operatives on Election Day to challenge voters in thirty-one counties — most of them in predominantly black and urban areas.(157) Although it was billed as a means to ‘‘ensure that voters are not disenfranchised by fraud,’‘(158) Republicans knew that the challengers would inevitably create delays for eligible voters. Even Mark Weaver, the GOP‘s attorney in Ohio, predicted in late October that the move would ‘‘create chaos, longer lines and frustration.’‘(159)
In fact, Blackwell gave Republican challengers unprecedented access to polling stations, where they intimidated voters, worsening delays in Democratic precincts. By the end of the day, thanks to a whirlwind of legal wrangling, the GOP had even gotten permission to use the discredited list of 35,000 names from its illegal caging effort to challenge would-be voters.(162) According to the survey by the DNC, nearly 5,000 voters across the state were turned away at the polls because of registration challenges — even though federal law required that they be provided with provisional ballots.(163)
* * *