Republican Jon Husted speaks to supporters in 2010 after being elected Ohio's Secretary of State. Photo: AP Photo/Jay LaPrete
Because he's a male, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted is not going to become a garish caricature on Saturday Night Live after tomorrow's election the way Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris was in 2000. But SNL might want to keep some room in its show for a sketch anyway. Mr. Husted seems determined to make a name for himself, and not in a way that will please those of us who want the election to end on a peaceful and lawsuit-free note.
First, some background. Husted, 45, went along with national GOP efforts to try and eliminate early voting in the state. It would protect the integrity of the ballot, he insisted. When he and the GOP-controlled state legislature decided to limit early voting on the last weekend of the election to military voters and Americans outside the country and Husted agreed, Democrats promptly sued, and won. Husted fought back, saying that early voting burdened his county election boards right before the election, and that his decision had nothing to do with an attempt to make it harder for minorities to vote. (Republicans argued in public that Democrats gamed the early voting hours because they bused black voters to polls after church on the Sunday before the election, something that Republicans couldn't do because their voters tend to be more spread out and not clustered in cities.)
Provisional ballots allow folks who show up at the wrong polling site or who don't have proper identification to exercise their right to participate in elections, subject to post-facto verification. Husted has done his darndest to shift the burden of proof onto the voter, increasing the number of conditions that would get a ballot disqualified. A week ago, Husted told local election officials that ballots marked with improper identification had to be rejected and destroyed. That seemed to violate a consent degree (the result of another lawsuit brought against him) that established that improper identification on a ballot did not automatically mean it had to be discarded. Husted insists his directive is legal because it allows voters with the wrong type of ID to produce the right type of ID on the spot. That is, if a poll worker tells someone they've produced improper identification, then the person can (in theory) dig through their wallet or purse or go back home and get the right one. Weak. That's weak. Nothing in the current law prevents that from happening anyway. Husted says that poll workers who have to verify identification post-election will be unduly burdened.
Now, the latest (and weirdest) move: Husted acted as if the integrity of election machines were trivial. This is not something a Republican usually does; the vote is supposed to be sacrosanct. Indeed, a patch of federal and state law say that you can't change software on voting machines after they've been certified. This is reasonable, because it ensures that if there's a software glitch, it'll effect everyone equally, or it has an equal chance of affecting everyone. Ohio's voting machines have been certified. Husted allowed the creator of voting tabulation software to install so-called "patches" on machines that will ultimately process more than 4,000,000 votes. Husted's defense is that the coding changes are "experimental." That is, it is within the law, and Husted's purview, to perform select experiments on voting machines; experiments and tests don't have to be certified or monitored.
In this case, though, it seemed like Husted decided to call the software changes "experimental" simply so he could make an end run around laws requiring that any changes to voting systems be certified and made known to everyone. If Husted had done this six months ago, before the machines were subject to verification, that would have been fine. But it stretches reality to call a major software fix just days before an election an "experiment." Now maybe the software patch really is needed. If that's so, then Husted and the contractor making the changes have to swallow the verification process, even if it means delaying the counting of votes. Husted's spokesman says that the patches don't directly involve the tabulation of software ... only the mechanisms that the already-tallied votes get sent to central processors. And I am not among those who believe that Republicans or corporations would deliberately inject coding that tilts elections to the GOP.
But that's besides the point. Voters in Ohio have to be confident their process is legitimate. That means that provisional ballots ought to be counted fairly, even if it takes a while to verify or reject a ballot. It means that votes have to be counted in a uniform way using the same equipment, even if it means that the tabulation won't be finished immediately. It means that the state has to go out of its way to make sure that its actions with regard to elections are seen as fair and above board.
Several court decisions are pending.
Husted has spoken out against tougher standards for photo identification, to his credit. But his actions, generally, have suggested that his vision of ballot integrity is narrow and mostly involves a very quick count. His penchant for expeditiousness looks very partisan, as his political advisers probably know. It does not look very statesmanlike.
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