Posted by on August 24, 2012 in Blog
The fight over early voting in Ohio has been contentious for some time. It seemed to reach a peak when the Obama campaign sued Attorney General Mike DeWine and Secretary of State John Husted in mid-July. But this week, the stakes got even higher for two election officials.
Last week, Husted stirred controversy when he mandated that all 88 Ohio counties offer the same hours for extended voting, regardless of the hours set by the counties’ own Election Boards. The “regular business hours” dictated by Husted eliminate weekend voting deemed critical in many urban jurisdictions.
Montgomery County election officials Dennis Lieberman and Tom Ritchie Sr. agreed to uphold the weekday voting hours stipulated by Husted, but also to restore the weekend hours previously established by Montgomery’s Election Board. According to Lieberman, “I believe that this is so critical to our freedom in America, and to individual rights to vote, that I am doing what I think is right.” And that commitment to Montgomery’s voters may cost these two their jobs.
This week, Husted suspended both Lieberman and Ritchie— who has served on the Board for 17 years— for failing to uphold his order. He later recalled the suspension, awaiting a hearing officer's report to determine whether they should be fired. Given the national attention his actions have received, Husted has more than Ohioans watching the outcome.
It’s the latest volley on the virtual battleground of voter rights, a fight increasingly portrayed as an attempt to prevent a throw-back to the pre-civil rights era. Earlier this week, a member of Franklin County’s Election Board, Republican Chairman Doug Preisse, made headlines when he told The Columbus Dispatch, via email "We shouldn't contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine." In a subsequent apology for these remarks, Priesse confirmed his belief that Husted’s actions are ensuring “uniformity and fairness across the state." It remains to be seen if the rest of Ohio feels the same way.