Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted is fast becoming one of the most despised election officials in the country for his many attempts to restrict early voting and throw out legitimate provisional ballots. He’s also alienating federal judges left and right. After Husted issued a last-minute directive that could invalidate thousands of Ohioans’ votes, US District Judge Algenon Marbley did not bother to hide his impatience with the secretary’s hijinks.
Husted’s directive, which was issued at 7 pm on the Friday before the election, openly defies Ohio state law by shifting the burden of correctly filling in a provisional ballot form from the poll worker to the contested voter. As Andrew Cohen at the Atlantic explains, Judge Marbley had already worked out an agreement that placed the responsibility on poll workers and the state, so a vote would still be counted if the poll worker made an error. Husted’s directive snuck around this agreement, apparently infuriating the judge:
THE COURT: Mr. Epstein, would you agree that voting is the linchpin of our democracy?
[STATE ATTORNEY] MR. EPSTEIN: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: I do too. What concerned me about the 2012-54 directive is that it was filed on a Friday night at 7 p.m. The first thought that came to mind was democracy dies in the dark. So, when you do things like that that seeks to avoid transparency, it appears, then that gives me great pause but even greater concern. So, if anyone I’m going to give additional time to, it’s going to be you, Mr. Epstein, because you have a lot of explaining to do [...] I’m really trying to get to the root of this, and I don’t want to see democracy die in the darkness on my watch, especially with voting. You know I have a special place for voting.
Ohio’s attorney was unable to point to any legal justification for ignoring the law and shifting the burden to the voter. Marbley exploded:
THE COURT: So show me where it is. Show me where it’s meant. Show me the legislative history. Show me the facts that the secretary used to make the decision to change this directive at seven o’clock on a Friday night on the eve of an election. I want to see it, and I want to see it now. Show it to me.
MR. EPSTEIN: Your Honor, I have no legislative history to present to the Court.
Marbley isn’t the first federal judge to be provoked by Husted’s defiance. After another district judge, Judge Peter Economus, ruled that Ohio must restore early voting hours on the three days before the election, Husted forbade the local election boards from following the court order. Husted backed down when the judge issued a terse order that demanded he appear in court to personally explain himself.
Marbley’s ruling is expected Monday. Provisional ballots will be counted on November 17.