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Judge refuses to reinstate Ohio election board members

U.S. District Judge Walter Rice ruled Thursday that Ohio Secretary of State John Husted had not acted unconstitutionally or unjustly when he fired two Democratic election board members in Montgomery County in August. Rice therefore refused to grant a temporary injunction to restore the men to their positions.

For the past seven years, election boards in Ohio's 88 counties have individually chosen how many early voting hours they would be open ahead of elections. But this year Democrats noticed a new pattern in the decisions of the boards, each of which comprises four members, two Republicans and two Democrats. In Republican-dominated areas of the state, the boards were approving extensive early-voting hours with unanimous votes. In some highly urban counties with heavy Democratic majorities, however, the Republican board members were voting against extended early voting. Husted was breaking these ties each time by approving fewer hours.

Under pressure of a public outcry that this approach was unfairly partisan, Husted ultimately limited early-voting hours in all the state's counties. Only a few hours were provided for after-work time slots. But Husted's directive made no mention of weekend voting hours. When Montgomery County Democratic board members Dennis Lieberman and Tom Ritchie voted to hold weekend voting hours, Husted not only overrode their decision by breaking the board's tie, he also told the two men to rescind their votes. When they refused, he fired them.

In a lawsuit, the two sought a temporary injunction that would have immediately given them their board seats back. But Judge Rice ruled that they had “failed to make a clear showing why they are entitled to the requested relief.” He set a Nov. 13 hearing to cover other matters in the case.

  • Ballot screw-up requires another Florida recount: A design flaw is forcing Palm Beach County, Florida, to manually duplicate the votes on 27,000 absentee ballots so they can be digitally scanned. The problem has dredged up bad memories of the 2000 election in which "butterfly ballots" in Palm Beach County and ballot problems in Duval County forced a disputed recount in the presidential race that landed in the U.S. Supreme Court and led to the transparently partisan decision in Bush v. Gore. Repercussions this year will be far less.

    When it was discovered there was a missing header on the original ballots, Democratic Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher ordered it inserted. Consequently, about half the ballots could not then be read by scanner. The solution to the problem, approved by the Republican secretary of state, is for employees to manually duplicate onto new ballots the votes cast on each of the flawed ballots so they can be read by scanner. The process will be carried out by 10 teams, each comprising a Democratic and Republican. Each ballot will take about two minutes to complete, a total of 900 hours.

    "They do get kudos for transparency," said Michael D. Martinez, a professor of political science at the University of Florida who has studied electoral behavior. "There's always the potential for error, with any process that you come up with, but this one sounds really fair."

(Continue reading below the fold.)

In other War on Voting news

  • Democrats call for probe over Indiana county's voter purge: Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Jones is seeking an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice Election Integrity Task Force into how a purge of 13,303 voters in La Porte County happened. He said it was an "effort led by Republican voters' appointee Donna Harris, the wife of county Republican chairman Keith Harris." The purge was supposed to be of citizens who had not cast ballots since before the 2008 election. But they included those who did vote that year. One more check into "inactive" voters could be expected to find 800 names to remove.
Jones went on to say that "federal law is clear that voters can only be purged if they have not voted in two federal election cycles. Yet Ms. Harris began a systematic effort to wipe off the voter rolls over 13,000 voters even though they had voted in 2008 but not voted in 2010 and 2011. Well, 2011 was city elections and that doesn't count for purposes of a purge. This was wrong and Donna Harris and Keith Harris should have known better."

Republican Party Chairman Keith Harris said he does not believe this was a partisan effort to eliminate Democrat voters, pointing out that it was the Republican co-director Donna, his wife, who developed the plan to correct the problem, and then led the effort to have it resolved.

The names of mistakenly purged voters are now being restored to the rolls, officials say.
  • Tennessee voter-ID advocates unhappy with court's ruling: The Tennessee Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court's ruling that the state's new law requiring citizens to show a photo ID in order to vote is constitutional. But it also ruled that library cards can be used for this purpose, and that has the law's promoters in a tizzy. Representative Debra Maggart, the Republican legislator who sponsored the law, said that allowing library cards is a bad move:
This is the definition of "legislating from the bench" and, frankly, is unacceptable.
 
Tennesseans overwhelmingly support a common sense photo identification requirement that ensures the person issued the ID is, in fact, a citizen of Tennessee. Since the library system is not equipped to verify an individual’s legal status, the Court has purposefully undermined the will of Tennesseans with today’s decision.
  • Texas A.G. threatens against international election observer group: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott threatened the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe with prosecution if it carried out its plan to observe elections in the state. The private organization contracted with the United Nations has previously observed U.S. elections without incident. But Abbott challenged the organization in a lengthy letter sent Tuesday, saying, among other things, that it had no right to be engaging in the monitoring and that the organization's representatives “are not authorized by Texas law to enter a polling place” and noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of voter-ID laws, one of the OSCE's concerns. In fact, the voter-ID law in Texas has been overturned by a federal court.

Abbott has also tweeted about the OSCE, saying "BRING IT" in one and pointing out the Belarus did not provide visas to OSCE monitors. Although it holds façade elections, the eastern European nation that was once part of the Soviet Union is a dictatorship.

An OSCE official communicated with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to inform her that the United States has obligations to accept such monitoring because it is a member of OSCE.

Abbott isn't the only Republican to have expressed anger that the U.N. or associated bodies have sought to monitor U.S. elections.

  • NYT backs investigation of Nathan Sproul's firms: As we reported Thursday, three Virginia congressmen want the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a multi-state investigation of voter-registration firms run by Republican operative Nathan Sproul. Over a decade, the Republican National Committee and state party operations have paid Sproul's firms millions of dollars despite accusations that they have been engaged in fraud. No charges have ever been filed.

Sproul's Strategic Allied Consultants came under fire this year because of the surfacing of apparently fraudulent voter-registration forms in 10 Florida counties. The RNC consequently cut its ties with SAC, as did the Florida GOP and Republican parties in four other states. But the party is still doing business with a SAC subsidiary, Pinpoint, in Virginia.

The New York Times weighed in with an editorial in the matter:

The company has denied any improper practices, contending that a few complaints would inevitably arise in its voluminous registration efforts in hundreds of jurisdictions. But authorities should look closely into the operations of Mr. Sproul’s various companies, which campaign records show have collected more than $17.6 million since 2004 from Republican committees, candidates and super PACs.
  • Ohio judge expands provisional ballots that must be counted: A federal panel has already ruled that Ohio must count ballots that were cast in the wrong precinct as a result of bad directions given by a poll-worker. The decision applied to the "right church, wrong pew" situation that frequently arose when two or more precincts set up their polling stations at the same location. Now, a federal judge says that provisional ballots cast at the wrong location, not just the wrong precinct, must also be counted if a poll-worker misdirected a voter.

Here is the decision.

  • Report calls voter suppression doubly bad for women of color: The report, "A Dual Disenfranchisement: How Voter Suppression Denies Reproductive Justice to Women of Color," says that hundreds of thousands of minority women, who have been voting in larger percentages each election, may be adversely affected by new voter-restriction laws. This would mean they "will lose their ability to protect a range of constitutional rights, including the right to decide whether, when, and with whom to have children."
  • Rep. Elijah Cummings demands True the Vote show him its plans: For several weeks, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, has been trying to get the right-wing "voter-fraud" group True the Vote to explain its methods. To no avail. He has now given them an Oct. 31 deadline. In a letter to the group's president and founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, he wrote:
If you are truly committed to transparency in our nation’s voting process—and if you continue to deny that your organization is challenging thousands of legitimate voters across the country for partisan political purposes—then you should have no reason to withhold documents from Congress about your activities.
Vote suppression tactics are another reason the Obama campaign and Democrats are leaning so hard on early voting. The Democratic National Committee today released a new memo laying out what the public polls tell us about who is winning the early voting. The short version: The consensus of those polls is that Obama holds overwhelming leads among early voting in Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The Obama team views this as a kind of insurance policy against voter suppression tactics.
  • Minnesota Indians worry about voter ID referendum: State officials in Minnesota, including the one who as secretary of state lost her effort to keep Indians from using tribal IDs to vote in 2004, say the voter-ID proposal is nothing to worry about. The referendum on the November ballot would, for the first time, establish a requirement that voters show a photo ID at the polls in elections starting in 2013:
Audrey Thayer, coordinator of the local ACLU office in Bemidji and member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, referred to accepting the amendment as it’s written as writing a “blank check” to legislators.

“I come from a culture of people that we’ve not had the best shakes out there when you’re throwing the dice,” Thayer said.

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