California Leads, But Ohio Rules: How I Saw the Election in Ohio
Ohio: If you Really, Really Want To Vote, Maybe we’ll Count It
Republican efforts at voter obstruction began in earnest in 2004, when Republican Ken Blackwell was Ohio Secretary of State and simultaneously an honorary co-chair of President Bush’s re-election campaign. Blackwell arguably made attempts to suppress votes in a way that could disenfranchise voters more likely to vote for Democrat John Kerry:
- Voter registration forms distributed in voter registration drives were rejected that weren’t on the proper weight of paper
- Student voters who were Ohio residents, but who were in school out of the state or county were required to vote at their specific local polling place
- Several predominantly African American and college area polling locations had inadequate voting machines to handle the turnout, resulting in hours-long lines to vote.
- Blackwell also announced he would enforce an Ohio State election law decreeing that any person who appeared at a polling place to vote but whose registration could not be confirmed would be given only a provisional ballot; the voter then had to deliver proof of their residency to their county Board of Elections within 10 days of the election for their vote to count. The state has one of the highest rates of provisional ballots, a substantial percentage of which are not counted (25% in 2008).
Early Voting in Hamilton County
The Tuesday one week before the election, I went downtown to the Board of Elections to find out how early voting was going. Even mid-morning the weather was very cold. And the line of people voting early was out of the second floor office, down the stairs and down the block. It was taking 30-45 minutes for people to vote. I went down to the Board of Elections several times in the next week and as the week progressed, the line was getting longer. On the weekend, it stretched several blocks long and could take over an hour of waiting to vote. There were news outlets from all over the world: France, Japan, CNN. Thousands of voters in this one county took advantage of the last three days of early voting that the Secretary of State had tried to eliminate. And from how many took literature from Republicans versus Democrats passing out literature – it’s not clear whether Secretary of State Husted’s voter suppression efforts were the result or the cause of the overwhelmingly Democratic early vote. Regardless of which party the voters were supporting, it was incredibly inspiring to see such an outpouring of commitment to exercising the right to vote. I can’t imagine anything like this in California.
By the way, I went into the Board of Elections to get publicly available data. I talked to some of the people who work there – like most election professionals, they want to do the right thing: enable eligible voters to have their votes counted accurately, safely and securely.
Election Day, November 6, 2012
On Election Day, I was an Election Observer at Hamilton County Precinct 3D, in the almost all African American neighborhood of Evanston with about 1,700 registered voters.
The first thing that happened had nothing explicitly to do with voter suppression. The site was a community center. When I arrived at 6 am, donuts in hand, it was 38 degrees, and the election officials, other observers and about ten voters were there. The janitor who was supposed to open the facility was nowhere to be found. I reported the problem up my chain of reporting. Polls were scheduled to open at 6:30 am. Around 6:10 am, the election officials started trying to find someone who could do something. Voters were steadily arriving, planning to vote before they had to go to work. By the time the county Democratic chair had arrived, the mayor had been called, and someone with a key finally showed up at 6:55 am, there were 100 people in line to vote, not counting the five to ten people who had left, saying they couldn’t wait that long, but would come back.
The election officials went into the room to do final setting up of the polling place. Fortunately, the center was large enough to allow all 100 people in line to move inside while they waited. But then the issues started. The election officials set up as quickly as they could, but of course the voters were pretty pissed off, not to mention in a hurry. Some discussion took place about possibly asking everyone to vote provisionally, which didn’t require the same degree of time-consuming scrutiny that regular ballots would. Fortunately, between the Democratic county chair and our inside polling location attorney, that notion was put aside. Voting started and once it did, people were pretty patient.