In the lead up to the 2000 presidential election, Florida’s Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris hired a private company to create an error-laden “scrub list” of so-called ineligible voters, eventually wrongly purging as many as 7000 voters from Florida’s rolls — or 13 times George W. Bush’s post-Supreme Court margin of victory. Moreover, because Harris’ list “invariably target[ed] a minority population in Florida” that was overwhelmingly likely to vote for Al Gore, it is likely that her voter purge gave the presidency to Bush. Four years later, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell engaged in similar shenanigans to suppress the vote in his crucial swing state — including at one point saying he would reject voter registration forms if they were not printed on 80-pound thickness cardstock.
This election, the role of Kathrine Harris and Ken Blackwell is played by Ohio’s new Republican Secretary of State, Jon Husted. Here are just a few of the steps Husted took to try to swing Ohio’s crucial electoral votes to Mitt Romney:
- Trashing Provisional Ballots: In a last-minute directive that directly conflicts with Ohio law, Husted ordered all voters who make a mistake when filling out a form accompanying provisional ballots to be disenfranchised. As the majority of provisional ballots are cast in Ohio’s five largest counties — all of which favor Democrats — and because low-income and transient voters are also more likely to vote provisionally, Husted’s directive will likely disenfranchise many more Democrats than Republicans.
- Restricting Early Voting: Husted fought tooth and nail to limit opportunities to vote early in Ohio, although most of the restrictions on early voting Husted advocated were eventually blocked by a federal appeals court. Nevertheless, Husted still limited the number of hours available for early voting even after he lost in federal court, and he told an election law symposium last month that the court decision restoring early voting periods was an “un-American approach to voting.” Early voters in Ohio overwhelmingly support President Obama. As the federal court restoring early voting explained, “early voters have disproportionately lower incomes and less education than election day voters,” and thus are less likely to work flexibility to take time off to vote on election day.
- Defying Court Orders: After a federal district court declared Ohio’s efforts to suppress early voting unconstitutional, Husted openly defied this order — ordering local elections officials not to comply with it. Husted eventually backed down after federal Judge Peter Economus ordered Husted to personally attend a court hearing concerning his refusal to comply with the law.
- Retaliating Against People Who Oppose Him: Husted fired two Montgomery County board of election members after they voted to allow early voting on weekends when Husted opposed it.
It does not have to be the way. Unlike Ohio, where elections are run by a partisan official with few checks on their ability to use their power to influence elections, Wisconsin’s elections are governed by a nonpartisan Government Accountability Board made up of retired judges. In light of the GOP’s longstanding record of using partisan voting officials to skew elections, Wisconsin’s system is a far better alternative.