Extended Voting Hours Battle Shifts to Hamilton County Thursday
Sunday I posted about how, as a result of legwork done by Hamilton County (Cincinnati) Democratic Party executive director Caleb Faux and some of his associates, attention was being drawn to the hypocrisy of Secretary of State Jon Husted on the issue of extended voting hours around the state.
There was outrage in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) a month ago when Husted broke a tie between the two Democratic and two Republican board of elections members to limit early voting hours at the Board of Elections to regular business hours.
Back then he said it wouldn’t be fair for voters in Cuyahoga to have extra voting opportunities that other counties might not have. He broke similar ties in Lucas (Toledo) and Franklin (Columbus) counties, limiting early voting in three of the four biggest metro areas and also shut down extended hours in Summit County (Akron).
Hamilton County had not yet voted, and Faux began to wonder what was going on in the non-urban, heavily Republican counties. So he had some people call around — and he discovered that many of these counties WERE extending voting hours. Heavily Republican Warren and Butler counties, which ring Cincinnati, were allowing more convenient hours. So were Medina and Portage counties in Northeast Ohio.
The catch is that Democrats almost always tend to be for expanded voting opportunities, while Republicans are amassing a sad record of trying to limit them in heavily Democratic areas and among heavily Democratic demographics. So boards in urban counties were splitting, allowing Husted to break the tie. Boards in heavily Republican counties were agreeing on more voting hours, so Husted didn’t need to intervene.
On Friday, August 3, Faux put up a diary on national progressive website DailyKos, where it was certain to attract attention.
Soon progressive talk-show host Rachel Maddow picked up the story and ran with it.
Now Husted is thinking about issuing a directive for uniform statewide voting hours, and the folks in Hamilton County are urging him to think REALLY hard about living up to his statements about the unfairness of more opportunities for some voters than others.
Their board has a special meeting scheduled at 9 a.m. Thursday to vote on extended early voting hours. Faux is one of the Democratic members of the board, along with his party chair Tim Burke. The Republican members are Alex Triantafilou and Charles Gerhardt. Faux says that from conversations with Triantafilou and
Gerhard, it’s clear they’ll vote against extended early voting.
This quote from Triantafilou in an interview with Cincinnati’s TV 12 certainly suggests that:
What is clear is that our Democratic colleagues are trying to stir up their base by falsely portraying us as restricting access to the ballot. It has never been easier to vote in Ohio as voters can vote for 35 days before an election 24 hours a day from anywhere and then simply drop off their ballot. Politics is at play here- — and we should not set board of elections policy to satisfy one political party or another.
Yes, it has “never been easier to vote in Ohio,” and yes, voters can vote via absentee or mail-in ballot across the state. It’s just that it’s even EASIER if you are in a heavily Republican area where you’re being given extra-special additional voting opportunities. What part of that does Triantafilou not get — or is he being deliberately deceitful here? If anyone is playing politics, it’s him.
Faux points out that precincts have been consolidated in urban areas, leaving Hamilton with half as many precincts as it had in 2004.
“If early voting opportunity is curtailed, that forces people back to polling places,” he says. “That’s a prescription for long lines again on voting night. I intend to raise that issue again on Thursday.”
Triantafilou is right that Hamilton County Democrats are trying to stir up their base — and anyone who believes in equal access to the ballot.
“We’re trying to generate as large a crowd as possible,” says Faux. “There will be a rally outside before the meeting. We’re trying to draw as much scrutiny as possible. My intent is to put as much pressure on them as I possibly can, with the thought that if the pressure is intense enough, one of two things happens. Husted issues directive statewide saying, ‘This is the policy for every board of elections.’ Or the Republicans here in Hamilton decide they don't want to do this because of the negative attention.”
Faux adds that there’s been increased public interest in the BoE’s deliberations since the Tracie Hunter situation. Hunter won election as juvenile judge in November 2010 by a margin of less than 100 votes — IF a set of disputed provisional ballots were counted. If not, she lost. Republicans fought a pitched battle for 18 months to have them tossed. Hunter was sworn in in May.
“The Tracie Hunter thing attracted crowds,” says Faux. “We have people used to coming and raising a fuss. It makes it easy to appeal to the same people.”
The other issue Husted raised in voting to shut down extended early voting is that some counties might lack the resources to do so (thanks in part to state cuts under the Kasich budget).
“If they complain about money again, one of the things I will point to is the Tracie Hunter lawsuit,” says Faux. “It’s settled, except for the lawyers’ fees. The expectation is that Hamilton County will be asked to pay as much as $1.5 million. Republicans were more than happy to risk putting taxpayers on the hook to prevent votes from being counted. I think it looks really bad, and it’s really easy for people to grasp the meaning of this. When I explain it to people, they don’t have any problem wrapping their heads around this.”