Damning New Report Details Partisan and Sometimes Racially Charged Motivations of those Administering Ohio’s Elections – From Statewide Officials to County Election Board Members
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, in a letter sent to Secretary of State Jon Husted, Allied Progress called on the Ohio’s top election official to root out those motivated by partisanship and/or racial animus in the administration of the state’s elections. The request comes on National Voter Registration Day and follows a months-long investigation into Ohio’s election administration resulting in the publication of a new report titled, “Something’s Rotten: Ohio’s Shameful Record of Voter Suppression and the Partisan and Sometimes Racially Charged Motivations of Those Administering Its Elections.”
The report details recent attempts by statewide elected officials, state legislators, and county election boards to make voter registration and voting more difficult in Ohio through efforts that disproportionately affect minority, senior citizen, disabled, and low-income voters. It also reveals the admittedly partisan political motivations behind these efforts and the sometimes racially charged and conspiratorial machinations of local officials entrusted with running impartial and unbiased elections in the Buckeye State.
“Secretary of State Jon Husted must move swiftly to root out partisanship and racial animus in the administration of Ohio’s elections – both at the county election board-level and in his own office. Regardless of how we vote, we all want elections that are free from political tampering,” said Allied Progress Executive Director Karl Frisch. He continued, “The admittedly partisan efforts by some Ohio politicians to reduce the participation of minority, senior citizen, disabled, and low-income voters in our democratic process should worry us all. This report shows in chilling detail how so many of those responsible for administering Ohio’s elections are motivated by partisanship and in too many cases, make disturbing racially charged and conspiratorial comments on social media.”
- Ohio Has Enacted Sweeping, Partisan Voter Suppression Policies: Ohio currently enforces a voter ID law that requires voters to show identification when voting. Ohio officials have cut back on early and weekend voting, eliminated “Golden Week,” and pushed for even greater restrictions, including more stringent voter ID requirements. Ohio officials have also fought to prevent students from voting and delayed the implementation of online voter registration even though the state’s chief election official says the system is ready to be deployed.
These Policies Are Driven by Politics and Sometimes Race (Admittedly So in Some Cases):
- Secretary of State Jon Husted: Has been at the forefront of suppressing voting rights in Ohio. His changes to election and voting laws—including cuts to early and weekend voting and aggressive purges of Ohio voter rolls—have been repeatedly challenged in major voting rights lawsuits. Husted supported the effort that cut early voting in Ohio. Public records of emails between officials in the secretary of state’s office, including Husted himself, displayed a partisan approach to distributing voter education materials after implementing new early voting policies. In 2012, he helped draft a sweeping elections bill that drastically cut in-person early voting and eliminated most weekend voting hours, among other restrictions. The bill was so controversial that, after voting rights advocates gathered enough signatures to place a referendum repealing the law on the 2012 ballot, Ohio lawmakers repealed the bill rather than risk defeat at the polls. Husted also attempted to bar 17-year-olds who would turn 18 prior to the general election from voting in the 2016 presidential primary, a move that was reversed by a judge.
- State Representative Andrew Brenner: Believes that “public education in America is socialism,” despite serving as vice-chair of the Ohio House Education Committee. Brenner has voiced concerns about “voter suppression” of rural voters and has noted the difference in “demographics” between voters in rural areas as compared to urban areas, where minority voters who tend to vote Democratic are more likely to live. He supported legislation which prohibited counties from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications and argued that allowing counties to fund and send out unsolicited absentee ballot applications would amount to “voter suppression” because “most rural counties can’t afford to send out absentee ballots.” Brenner also noted the differences in “demographics” between voters in rural areas as compared to urban areas, where, he suggested, absentee ballot applications would be more likely to be sent out.
- State Representative John Becker: A voter suppression advocate who has made many offensive, highly partisan, and at times racially charged, comments. He once claimed that “If Jesus Christ were walking the earth as a man today, the liberals would likely label Him as a radical right-wing hate mongering wacko Bible-thumping fundamentalist anti-women homophobic bigot and perhaps even a Nazi [sic].” He has also supported police officers accused of killing unarmed black men. After Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO, Becker wrote, “At this point, I’m not sure which one was the victim.” He also wrote that he was considering introducing legislation that would require schools “to teach respect for authority,” suggesting test questions, such as, “Let’s say you’re walking down the middle of the street high on dope after committing a strong-arm robbery. When stopped by a police officer, the best way to start the conversation is: a. Shout ‘FU_ _ you, pig’ and punch the cop in the face. b. Grab for his gun and then charge at him. c. Carefully follow all instructions and submit to the pending arrest.”
- State Senator Bill Seitz: A voter suppression advocate, Seitz introduced a bill in 2016 that would require a cash bond, possibly worth thousands of dollars, before a judge could order that polls stay open past scheduled closing time for any reason. Democrats likened the bill to a poll tax that would be a deterrent to low-income voters fighting for their rights to vote. The bill would waive the cash bond for voters who are declared indigent by the court, but, even if they won their case, the polls would only stay open for that specific voter, meaning a cash bond would need to be posted by someone for the polls to stay open for all voters. He brushed off criticism that the law would favor wealthy voters, saying “So what? . . . If anyone else wants to file an affidavit of indigency, let them come in, too.” While on the Cincinnati school board in the 1990s, Seitz came under fire for his racially charged comments after penning a controversial letter that described the behavior of African American graduates and families at a high school graduation as disruptive, and linked it to disproportionate rates of disciplinary action against African Americans in the school district.
- State Representative Mike Dovilla: An outspoken advocate for voter suppression policies, Dovilla voiced his support for a bill that lowered the minimum number of voting machines required for each county. He has faced criticisms for using Ohio tax dollars to hold a series of field hearings on politicized federal issues that were beyond the scope of the Ohio state legislature. Dovilla, as chair of the Ohio House Policy and Oversight Committee, held a hearing in Cincinnati in response to allegations that the IRS targeted right-leaning organizations and invited Tea Party groups to testify. Dovilla also said he was considering subpoenaing IRS employees in response to the Tea Party allegations.
Local Election Administrators Motivated by Partisanship and Sometimes Race:
- Cuyahoga County Board of Elections: Board member Rob Frost is a stridently partisan voice on the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections — he is also a Republican lobbyist and chairman of the Cuyahoga County Republican Party. He has voted against extending early voting hours and against printing bilingual ballots for the entire county, which would make it easier for Spanish speakers to vote. During a protest in Cleveland over cuts to early voting in 2012, Frost claimed that the protest was a Democratic ploy to “gin up the turnout.” He also defended controversial billboards threatening penalties for voter fraud that were displayed in minority communities before the 2012 presidential election. Board member Jeff Hastings also voted against expanding early voting and against printing bilingual ballots. In addition to serving on the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, Hastings is also a member of the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County Executive Committee.
- Franklin County Board of Elections: Board member Doug Preisse is actively involved in local partisan politics in Ohio, serving as Chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party, he is also a top advisor to Governor Kasich and has been called “the most connected lobbyist in Ohio.” In 2012 when he stated, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African American—voter turnout machine.” The statement was widely attacked as racist by Democrats and black leaders but Preisse stood by his comments, saying, “I am indeed questioning how far this process of democratic, small ‘d’, democratic voting process should be contorted to favor a political operation. I don’t think we should go overboard in doing that.” He added, “I also believe that there is no question that the forces of Obama and the other side of the aisle would love to just throw the barn doors open and have 24-hour voting and just go too far in the other direction.”
- Hamilton County Board of Elections: Board members Alex Triantafilou and Charles “Chip” Gerhardt, are both active in local partisan politics and have supported policies that made it more difficult for Cuyahoga County voters to cast their ballots. Triantafilou is an outspoken believer in widespread voter fraud, despite the lack of evidence that it exists. He appeared on the Fox News claiming that voter fraud was “a real problem.” Gerhardt is a Republican lobbyist and former Vice Chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party.
- Summit County Board of Elections: Board member Alex R. Arshinkoff has a long and controversial career in Republican politics. He is known as the “Republican Godfather of Summit County,” has served on the Summit County Board of Elections for over 30 years and has faced harsh criticism—from Democrats and Republicans alike—over the course of his long political career. He especially has been criticized for fundraising for Republican candidates and lobbying them after he helped get them elected. He has voted to cut early voting, voted in favor of buying photocopiers to capture images of voters’ IDs at county polling places, and proposed sweeping budget cuts ahead of the 2012 presidential elections, which would have significantly reduced the number of precincts and polling locations in the county and eliminated poll worker positions.
Ohio’s Voter Suppression Groups
- True the Vote and Ohio Voter Integrity Project: True the Vote announced in 2015 that it was targeting Ohio for a project that aimed to purge as many potential double-voters as possible from Ohio’s voter rolls. Teresa Sharp, a former poll worker who labeled herself as a regular voter, thought that the group’s challenge of her—as well as her family’s—voter registrations was because “either they don’t want Obama in there or the fact that I’m black.” The groups also organize poll watchers to monitor polling places for potential voter fraud. True the Vote has been criticized for the aggressive tactics of its trained poll watchers, including for sending white poll watchers to majority African American neighborhoods. In Hamilton County, the Voter Integrity Project said their poll watcher training would “show you what your secretary of state might not show you.” During their training in Columbus, True the Vote’s national elections director, Bill Ouren, said the goal of having poll watchers was to make poll workers and voters feel like “when you’re . . . driving and seeing the police following you.”
- Ohio Christian Alliance: A Tea Party-linked nonprofit organization that claims to educate Christian voters about issues, legislation, and candidates, has a long history of pushing for voter suppression policies in the state. The group’s leader Chris Long has advocated for voter suppression policies on social media. In fact, when a federal court ruled that the elimination of Golden Week violated voting rights, he called the ruling “ridiculous” and suggested the decision would lead to voter fraud. He regularly posts far-right and controversial posts on social media. He shared an article from InfoWars, the website run by right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, with the headline “Vast Majority of Illegals Released into Country – Disease or No Disease.” He appears to believe President Obama is a Muslim, once sharing an article headlined, “Bill O’Reilly Reveals Unseen Images of Young Obama at Islamic Wedding,” and commented, “Our Muslim president.”
- Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions: This Columbus-based, conservative organization has actively advocated for voter suppression policies in Ohio. When the elimination of some early voting was being challenged in court, the Buckeye Institute filed an amicus brief opposing the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, which argued that limiting early voting disproportionately burdened minority voters. The Institute, in its brief, argued that such a burden did not matter: “The law does not require states to maximize minority opportunities by eliminating the usual burdens of voting to overcome underlying socio-economic disparities among racial groups.”
Read The Full Report (Click Here)
Text of Letter to Secretary of State Brian Kemp (PDF Download):
The Honorable Brian P. Kemp
Ohio Secretary of State
180 East Broad Street, 16th Floor
Columbus, Ohio 43215
RE: Investigation into Partisanship/Racial Animus in Ohio Election Administration
Dear Secretary Kemp,
As Secretary of State you set the tone for how elections should be administered in Ohio. County election board members, state legislators, and other statewide elected officials look to your example when considering questions of voter registration and election administration.
That is why we write to you today: in hopes that your office will root out any Ohio election official–both at the county election board-level and in your own office–who is motivated by partisanship or racial animus.
Our request comes after a months-long investigation into Ohio’s election administration resulting in the publication of a new report included with this letter. It details recent attempts by state and local officials to make voter registration and voting more difficult through efforts that disproportionately affect minority, senior citizen, disabled, and low-income voters.
It also reveals the admittedly partisan political motivations behind many of these efforts and the unfortunately common occurrence of local election officials who should be demonstrating impartiality instead making partisan, racially charged, and/or conspiratorial comments publicly on social media.
Voters must be able to trust that our elections are being administered in a fair and even-handed way by officials committed to neutrality and objectivity.
As Ohio’s chief election official and steward of the state’s democratic process, it is your responsibility to hold accountable anyone who does not meet this high standard.
We hope you will rise to the occasion.
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of our request. If you have any questions or need additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly.
This report is one of several state-based investigations being released by Allied Progress this month.
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