Doug Chapin knows it’s a cliche, but he can’t help himself when asked to explain why our state sees so many bitter battles over voting. “I think Ohio just ends up being the epicenter of the perfect storm,” says the elections-law expert with the University of Minnesota. He cites three reasons: No state is a more reliable barometer of presidential elections; few, if any, states have a more powerful secretary of state; and “the level of mutual partisan distrust in Ohio is as high as anyplace.” In case you’re skeptical of the latter point, you should listen to the litany Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper throws at GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted. Pepper, who teaches election law as an adjunct at the University of Cincinnati, points to how Husted and other state officials have been shot down “over and over and over and over” in various courts for trying to restrict Ohioans’ voting rights in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The most-recent ruling against the state came on May 24 from federal Judge Michael H. Watson, an appointee of President George W. Bush and former chief counsel for Republican Gov. George V. Voinovich. Watson ruled that state officials violated black-Americans’ voting rights by shrinking Ohio’s early voting period, which blacks have used more often than whites. In March, Husted lost an attempt to prevent 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by the November election from voting in the primary. Past attempts to pare early voting were overturned as well.
Pepper said that if an attorney in the private sector lost cases this often, he or she would be out of a job. “This lack of professionalism and incompetence when it comes to going to court is costing us millions of dollars,” the chairman said.
Guess what? Husted disagrees. “Many of these things we’re doing have been done since Bob Taft was secretary of state” in the 1990s, Husted said. “Democrats have given up on the legislative process. They just sue and try to find a friendly judge to help them out. … It’s OK to have a policy disagreement that you want to have a legislative debate over. It’s completely different when a federal judge says it violates the U.S. Constitution. That’s nuts.”