Special Report: Something’s Rotten in the State of Ohio

Ohio’s Shameful Record of Voter Suppression and the Partisan and Sometimes Racially Charged Motivations of Those Administering Its Elections

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In Ohio, political figures–from statewide elected officials and state legislators to members of county boards of election–have introduced voter suppression policies that make it increasingly difficult for minority voters to exercise their rights to vote. The motivation behind these efforts has been admittedly partisan and at times racially charged, with some officials articulating the political benefit of restricting access for some voters, or expressing controversial views on race.

Ohio greatly expanded absentee and early voting after the 2004 election, when long lines at the polls prevented thousands of Ohioans from voting in the tight presidential race in this pivotal swing state. In recent years, however, Ohio Republicans have cut back on early and weekend voting and are pushing for even greater restrictions, including requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.

Research has shown that voter suppressions policies, like forcing residents to show identification before casting a ballot, disproportionately affect minorities, senior citizens, the disabled, and low-income voters.

While politicians tout “rampant” voter fraud as the rationale behind such restrictive policies, in reality there is no evidence of widespread fraudulent voting taking place in Ohio or in any other state. Instead, Ohio’s status as a critical swing state in presidential elections is highly relevant when examining the motives of politicians who advocate for voter suppression policies. The Ohio officials who advocate for these policies have openly expressed political motivations for disenfranchising minority voters, who are more likely to vote Democratic.

Regulations to restrict voting are being pushed by prominent Ohio statewide elected officials, like Secretary of State Jon Husted, whose election policies have repeatedly been challenged in an ongoing series of major voting rights lawsuits. Governor John Kasich is also responsible for signing controversial voter suppression bills into law after Republicans pushed them through the state legislature.

Most voter suppression policies in Ohio originate in the state legislature, with county boards of election administering elections according to state law. As a result, lower-profile state legislators and members of county boards of election have a great deal of power and responsibility for shaping voting and election policies. Unfortunately, many state and local officials support voter suppression policies, often revealing their partisan, and at times racially charged, motivations. These policies disenfranchise minority voters, making it unnecessarily burdensome for them to exercise their constitutional rights to vote.

This report examines recent voter suppression initiatives in Ohio, shedding light on the players behind these efforts and the problematic partisan, and at times racially charged, motivations that shape their decisions. Statewide elected officials and several state legislators notable for voter suppression actions were investigated, as were county boards of elections in the four most populous counties in Ohio, highlighting particularly problematic election board members. Additionally, this report examines influential voter suppression groups with strong political ties and obviously partisan goals working in Ohio to disenfranchise minority voters.

Voter Suppression in Ohio

Voter Restrictions in Ohio

Voter Identification Requirements

Ohio currently enforces a voter ID law that requires voters to show identification, though not necessarily photo identification, in order to cast their ballots. The voter ID bill, signed into law in 2006 by then-Governor Bob Taft, requires voters to prove their identities at the polls by showing a driver’s license, state photo ID, military ID, utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, government check or other government document showing the voter’s name and address.[1] Voters who do not provide accepted identification at the polls may cast a provisional ballot that will be counted only if a voter returns to their county board of elections in the following seven days to provide identification.[2]

Challenges to Ohio’s Voter ID Law

Several advocacy groups opposed Ohio’s voter ID bill. The executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio said that a review of the 2004 Ohio elections found only four illegal votes in nine million cast, calling the voter ID legislation “overkill to a problem that they’ve not demonstrated that we even have.” The groups opposed to the voter ID legislation argued that it would disproportionately discourage low-income voters, elderly voters, and college students.[3] The House bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kevin DeWine, brushed aside such criticism, arguing that “the integrity of the system” was “more important than voter convenience.”[4]

The new voter ID legislation was the subject of a legal battle ahead of the 2006 elections when labor and poverty groups sued the state over the new law as it applied to absentee voting.[5] The new law required an absentee voter to submit an application that included a driver’s license number, the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number, or a copy of a current photo identification, military identification, utility bill, or bank statement.[6] The case was eventually settled with an agreement that allowed all absentee ballots to be counted regardless of whether ID was supplied, and expanded which types of ID were acceptable, although the agreement applied only to the November 2006 election.[7]

Ongoing Battle for Even More Restrictive Voter ID Laws

Although Ohio’s current voter ID law does not require that voters present a photo ID in order to vote, Republicans state legislators have been attempting to pass a photo ID bill for years in the Ohio House, introducing separate photo ID laws in 2014 and 2015 that would eliminate all non-photo IDs from accepted identification at the polls. Neither of the bills passed.[8]

In 2011, Republicans state legislators in Ohio pushed what would have been the most restrictive voter ID law in the country at the time.[9] A range of groups opposed the photo ID plan, including labor groups, AARP Ohio, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, and the NAACP. The opposing groups noted that 11 percent of Ohioans do not have government-issued photo identification required by the plan and argued that the requirement constituted a “modern-day poll tax.”[10]

Failed Attempt to Prevent Students from Voting Through Voter ID

In 2013, Republican state legislators in Ohio attempted to force colleges and universities to offer in-state tuition to students who obtained documents to use as voter ID. The provision, which was tacked onto the state budget bills, was criticized as a way to discourage students from voting, as well as a measure that could potentially cost colleges and universities hundreds of millions of dollars.

Voting rights groups, including the League of Women Voters, argued that the measure was designed to discourage universities from providing documentation that would qualify as voter identification to their students.[11] An editorial by the Akron Beacon Journal stated that “Democrats and voting rights advocates rightly fear[ed] that universities, threatened with the loss of revenue from higher tuition charged to out-of-state students, would simply stop providing the documentation needed for students to gain access to the polls,” if the measure had passed.[12]

Election Administration Issues

Early Voting in Ohio

Early voting was expanded in Ohio after the 2004 presidential election, when long lines prevented thousands from voting, particularly in minority areas. Because problems with voting in the pivotal swing state may have had an actual impact on the outcome of the 2004 presidential election, state law was then changed to allow any voter to cast an absentee ballot and to open early voting thirty-five days before an election. These changes also included the creation of Golden Week, a five-day period where voters were able to register to vote and cast a ballot at the same time, although Ohioans must register to vote at least thirty days before an election.[13]

Cuts to Early Voting, Weekend Voting, and Golden Week

Since that expansion of early voting, however, members of the Ohio legislature have worked to cut back on early voting hours in the state, despite concerns that it will make it more difficult for minority voters to cast their ballot. Early voting, and specifically weekend (including Sunday) voting are especially popular with minority voters. In fact, a 2008 study found that 56 percent of weekend voters in Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s most populous county, were black.[14]

The Ohio legislature significantly cut back on early voting in 2014, passing a bill that cut its thirty-five-day early voting period by six days. The legislation also eliminated Golden Week. Another bill passed by the legislature changed rules on absentee ballot applications, prohibiting county election boards from sending them unsolicited.[15]

The bills were signed into law by Governor Kasich in February 2014. Opponents of the new voting restrictions argued that the laws would disproportionately affect voters in urban areas, making it more difficult for some Ohioans to vote and leading to an increase in discarded absentee ballots.[16]

Limited Progress on Online Voter Registration

Ohio has made limited progress towards allowing online voter registration, a modern and convenient process that can make it easier for residents to vote. Governor Kasich, in June 2016, signed legislation that will allow online voter registration starting in January 2017.

There are two major criticisms of the bill, however: that it will not be implemented in time for the 2016 presidential election, and that it requires registrants to have an Ohio driver’s license or state photo ID—a much stricter ID requirement than to register to vote on paper.[17] Ohio House Republicans voted to delay the implementation of the system until after the 2016 presidential election, despite the fact that even Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, a longtime advocate of online voter registration, has said that the system is ready to be implemented immediately.[18]

Voter Suppression from the Top Down

Secretary of State Jon Husted

Jon Husted, who has served as Ohio’s secretary of state since 2011, has been at the forefront of suppressing voting rights in his state. Husted’s 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.

He has been criticized for advocating for partisan election policies that Ohio Republicans have designed to discourage voters in Democratic areas from casting their ballots. Husted, who previously served as a top Republican in the state legislature, has repeatedly denied that his policies make it harder for Ohioans to vote.

Husted defended his voter suppression policies while addressing a Cincinnati Tea Party dinner in 2012 where leaders of the Ohio Voter Integrity Project—a local voter suppression organization affiliated with the national group, True the Vote—also spoke. Speaking to the Tea Party members, he said, “I get a little frustrated when I hear some folks use terms like ‘Jim Crow’ and ‘voter suppression’ and ‘disenfranchisement’ when it comes to Ohio elections. . . . No responsible person can hear about how easy it is to vote in Ohio and think that it’s hard to vote in Ohio, wouldn’t you say?”[19]

Cuts to Early Voting and Weekend Voting Restrictions

Cuts to Early and Sunday Voting in 2014

Secretary of State Husted supported the effort that cut early voting from thirty-five days to twenty-eight days in 2014. He argued that eliminating Ohio’s Golden Week was not an infringement on voters who are serious about casting ballots.[20] After Governor Kasich signed the legislature’s early voting restrictions into law, Husted announced an early voting schedule before the 2014 elections that included two Saturdays but no Sundays. This particularly affected African American communities that have popularized after-church voting.

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 emails where secretary of state officials discussed which groups should receive voter education materials about the state’s new early voting protocol, communications focused on targeting conservative groups, like the Tea Party, Right to Life, and even the Ohio Voter Integrity Project, a voter suppression group that actively challenges the registrations of Ohio voters. The secretary of state’s communications director even asked whether the government office should exclude all non-Republican legislators when sharing voter education materials.[21]

Husted’s cuts to early voting—and specifically the elimination of Sunday voting days and evening voting hours—was protested by a range of groups. Democrats questioned the legality of the new early voting schedule and argued that it would make it harder for low-income and minority voters to vote, especially in urban areas.[22]

Black clergy members also protested Husted’s cuts to early voting, which eliminated a practice known as “souls to the polls,” wherein African American churches organize transportation for congregants to cast their ballots after church. A letter from a group called the United Clergy of Greater Cleveland, which represented 100 congregations, wrote a letter to Husted noting that the eliminated “voting hours have proven to be most convenient for many minorities, workers, students, elderly persons and persons with little resources” and that the group’s members saw “little justification in [Husted’s] act,” which allowed “many to paint this as partisan jockeying and an effort to suppress the minority vote.”[23]

Legal Challenges to Early Voting Cuts

The cuts to early voting were challenged by voting and civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, and several African American churches, which filed a lawsuit naming Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine as defendants. The groups argued that the cuts to voting hours violated both the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, and discriminated against low-income and African American voters.[24]

A federal judge ruled in favor of the voting rights groups, ordering Husted to restore the cut early voting hours; however, the court’s ruling was blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted an emergency plea from Husted to block the ordered expansion of voting hours. Husted settled the case in 2015, maintaining the elimination of Golden Week but establishing evening and Sunday hours for several weeks prior to the 2016 presidential election and through 2018.[25]

In May 2016, a federal judge ruled that Husted’s cuts to early voting, including the elimination of Golden Week, “will disproportionately burden African-Americans” and violated the Voting Rights Act.[26] After Husted appealed, however, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, upholding the Ohio law that eliminated the Golden Week of voting. The U.S. Supreme Court left intact the decision of the Sixth Circuit and declined to restore the Golden Week of voting in Ohio.[27]

2012 Early Voting Battle

Two years previous to the voter suppression controversies he prompted in 2014, Secretary of State Husted was behind another controversial challenge to early voting. He helped draft a sweeping elections bill passed by the Republican-dominated Ohio Senate that would cut early voting and move the 2012 presidential primary from March to May. He said the bill would “ensure consistency, accuracy and security in Ohio’s elections process.” The bill, HB 194, drastically cut in-person early voting from thirty-five to seventeen days and eliminated most weekend voting hours, among other restrictions.[28]

HB 194 was so controversial that, after voting rights advocates gathered enough signatures for a referendum on the November 2012 ballot, Ohio lawmakers repealed the bill rather than risk defeat at the polls.[29] Opponents had argued that the bill unfairly targeted minority voters, senior citizens, and college students by cutting access to voting. Despite HB 194’s repeal, the ban on voting three or fewer days before Election Day, including the weekend before, remained in place.

President Obama’s re-election team filed a lawsuit against Husted arguing that all Ohio voters should be able to cast ballots on the three days before the election. In October 2012, a federal appeals court ruled against Husted, allowing voting the three days prior to Election Day and giving county election boards discretion to set hours on those days. Husted appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case. With only three weeks to go before the 2012 election, Husted finally complied with the federal court’s order and issued a directive to all counties, setting uniform voting hours for the three days before Election Day.[30]

Husted faced criticism not only for his attempt to limit early voting in Ohio, but for the precarious position in which he put voters and election administrators so close to Election Day. The Cleveland Plain Dealer published a scathing editorial of Husted after he announced his appeal to the Supreme Court: “With less than four weeks to go until Election Day, the rules for voting in Ohio are still up in the air. Secretary of State Jon Husted wrongly heightened the uncertainty on Tuesday, when he decided to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a pair of federal court rulings reversing Ohio’s ban on in-person early voting during the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day. . . . This controversy has dragged on too long already and has become too infested with partisanship. Clearly, Republicans want to limit last-minute early voting, which in 2008 was most heavily used by less-affluent, minority voters.”[31]

Purges of Ohio Voter Rolls

Ohio engages in regular purging of its voter rolls. The secretary of state’s office sends notices to registered voters who have not voted in elections for two years, or who have changed their address through the U.S. Postal System. If the voter does not respond to the notice or update their voter registration information “and does not vote or sign a petition within four years, the secretary of state’s office can cancel the voter’s registration.”[32]

In Ohio’s three largest counties, at least 144,000 inactive voters have been purged from the voter rolls. Husted has implied that voters who haven’t voted over a six-year period or responded to address requests from his office deserve to be purged from the voter rolls: “If this is really [sic] important thing to you in your life, voting, you probably would have done so within a six-year period.”[33]

A Reuters analysis found that Ohio’s policy on removing voter registrations seemed to help Republicans in the state’s largest metropolitan areas, while neighborhoods with high proportions of poor, African American residents are hit the hardest by the voter purging.[34]

Influence of Voter Suppression Groups on Husted’s Voter Roll Purges

Voter suppression groups, both national and Ohio-based, have influenced Husted’s policies on purging voter rolls. True the Vote is a national organization, founded by Tea Party activist Catherine Engelbrecht, which advocates for voter suppression policies and engages in fear-mongering tactics about nonexistent election fraud. The organization has been extremely successful in promoting voter suppression policies around the country and its work has bolstered legislative efforts in at least 37 states to require voter ID at the polls.[35]

Husted entered into a settlement after being sued by True the Vote and Judicial Watch, another conservative organization that advocates for voter suppression policies.[36] He agreed that Ohio would sign onto Kansas Secretary of State and voter suppression advocate Kris Kobach’s controversial Interstate Crosscheck program, a list of almost seven million potential double-voters from a number of states that has been criticized for being highly inaccurate. True the Vote later announced that it was targeting Ohio for a project that aimed to purge as many potential double-voters as possible from Ohio’s voter rolls.

Crosscheck consolidates and cross-references voter information from participating states. Its goal is to identify voters who may be voting illegally in multiple jurisdictions, but the program has been criticized for its inaccuracy. Crosscheck has erroneously flagged millions of potential double-voters, often based solely on first and last name correspondence, ignoring middle names, suffixes, and birthdates. In cases where voter information includes the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, those numbers are purposely ignored, increasing the likelihood of erroneously matched voter profiles.[37] Critics of the program have also noted that Crosscheck flags minority voters at disproportionate rates.[38]

Legal Challenge to Husted’s Voter Roll Purges

Husted is now a defendant in a lawsuit targeting Ohio’s voter purging methods. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Ohio chapters of the A. Philip Randolph Institute filed a federal case against Husted in 2016, challenging the purging of tens of thousands of voters from the voter rolls for failing to vote or failing to confirm their home addresses.

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed an amicus brief on behalf of the organizations challenging Husted’s actions, arguing that purging the voter rolls based on voter inactivity violates both the National Voter Registration Act and the Help America Vote Act.[39]

In September 2016, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled “that Ohio’s reliance on lack of voting activity as a trigger for purging people from the voting rolls violates federal law.” The ruling, which reiterated that “no voter should be disqualified simply for not voting often enough,” struck down Ohio’s process for purging voters from the voter rolls.[40]

Legal Challenge to Technical Ballot Procedures

Secretary of State Husted has been named as a defendant in a lawsuit challenging technical requirements for Ohio absentee and provisional ballots. The lawsuit charges that absentee and provisional ballots cast by qualified registered voters were being discarded because of small, technical errors, and the uneven application of the rules between counties has led to homeless and minority voters being disenfranchised at disproportionate rates.

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Columbus Coalition for the Homeless, and the Democratic Party have challenged technical requirements for absentee and provisional ballots, arguing that rules have been applied differently between counties and lead to homeless, black, and Latino voters being disqualified at disproportionate rates. The requirements challenged in the lawsuit—namely, requiring county election boards to reject absentee and provisional ballots for errors made on identification statements—were passed by Republican legislators and signed into law by Governor John Kasich in 2014.

The plaintiffs argue that the requirements essentially created a literacy test, prohibited by the Voting Rights Act, because voters must read, write, and understand voting forms without making a single mistake. In one case, a Franklin County man accidentally wrote his birth month as October when casting his ballot in October; by the time he received notice that his ballot was rejected, it was too late for him to cast a valid ballot. In a hypothetical example given by the plaintiffs, a voter registered as “William Thomas Smith” could have his absentee ballot rejected for writing “Wm. T. Smith” or “Bill Smith” on his ballot envelope.[41]

A federal judge ruled against Husted in June 2016, ruling that the requirements violated federal law and prohibiting the state of Ohio from enforcing them. In September, however, a panel on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld part of that ruling, while reversing other parts of the decision. The panel ruled “that with regard to birth dates and addresses on absentee ballots, the law created an unconstitutional burden on voters,” but did not address other issues that the lower court addressed, “such as if a Social Security number was incorrect or a variation of a name was used or if cursive writing was used but legible.” Husted said that, upon “initial review,” his office believed it was “a reasonable outcome.” There is still opportunity for either side to appeal.[42]

Failed Attempt to Bar Young People from Voting

Secretary of State Husted attempted to bar 17-year-olds who would turn 18 prior to the general election from voting in the 2016 presidential primary by using his interpretation of existing law that he claimed excluded the teenagers from “electing” delegates which could vote for a candidate at a national party convention, although “seventeen-year-olds can cast a vote on some candidates, even in congressional races, because that is not a direct vote for a candidate or delegate.” He defended his position by arguing that only people 18 or older can vote to elect delegates, and that “none of us, for example, vote for an actual presidential candidate. . . We vote to elect a delegate that then goes off to the convention and votes on our behalf to elect a particular candidate.”[43]

A Franklin County judge disagreed with Husted, ruling that 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before the general election are entitled to vote in presidential primaries. Husted said he would not appeal the judge’s ruling.[44]

Voter Suppression in the Ohio State Legislature

Over the past few years, Republicans in the Ohio state legislature have repeatedly introduced bills that would disenfranchise minority voters. Some bills died in the legislature, while others have been signed into law by the governor and enforced by the secretary of state.

State legislators advocating for voter suppression policies have not stopped introducing bills that would make it more difficult for low-income and minority voters to cast their ballots. Voter suppression advocates in the state legislature also have revealed partisan motivations for changing voting and elections laws, making it clear that legislators pushing voter suppression bills aim to unfairly influence Ohio elections by disenfranchising voters they fear might not vote Republican.

State Representative Andrew Brenner

State Representative Andrew Brenner is an extremely conservative lawmaker who believes that “public education in America is socialism,” despite serving as vice-chair of the Ohio House Education Committee.[45] Brenner is also an outspoken advocate of requiring voters to show photo IDs at the polls and has voiced concerns about “voter suppression” in rural areas, noting there were differences in “demographics” in rural areas compared to urban areas, where minority voters who tend to vote Democratic are more likely to live.

Brenner has repeatedly advocated for tougher voter ID laws that would require voters to show photo identification at the polls. He introduced a photo ID bill in 2015 with the support of the Ohio Christian Alliance, a right-wing group that even organized a press conference for Brenner to announce the bill, HB 189.[46] Brenner co-sponsored a similar bill in 2013, HB 269, and signed a discharge petition the next year in an attempt to force a vote on it even though the bill hadn’t had a single hearing since it was introduced.[47] Neither of the bills made progress in the legislature.

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, signed by Governor Kasich in 2014, 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.[48]

State Representative John Becker

State Representative John Becker is a voter suppression advocate who has made many controversial comments on a range of subjects. He co-sponsored HB 269, the 2013 voter ID bill that would require voters to show a photo ID in order to cast their ballots, and signed a discharge petition trying to force a vote on the bill in the legislature.[49]

Becker is an extremely conservative politician who has made 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].”[50]

He has supported police officers accused of killing unarmed black men and suggested requiring schools to “teach respect for authority.” 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 had previously voiced his thoughts about blacks being killed by white police officers, writing, “Had either man’s race been reversed, the entire incident would have never gotten news coverage outside of the immediate area. Just who are the racists?” 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.” Becker said he was interested in the issue because he was “seeing cops get blamed for some things that appear to not be their fault.”[51]

State Senator Bill Seitz

State Senator Bill Seitz is an advocate of voter suppression policies, who has voted to cut early voting and tried to pass a bill that was characterized as a poll tax by its opponents. He has claimed that any criticism of voter suppression in such bills amount to “tinfoil-hat” conspiracy theories from Democrats.

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.”[52]

Governor Kasich vetoed the bill, writing that “The bill’s provision that eliminates the judicial discretion to waive the bond is a step too far.” Seitz criticized Kasich for vetoing his bill, stating, “In vetoing Senate Bill 296, the governor has subordinated the interests of Ohio taxpayers and poll workers to the interests of those who want to game Election Day voting hours for political purposes.”[53]

He has spoken at a forum hosted by True the Vote, a national voter suppression organization that has worked to purge Ohio voter rolls with the help of local Tea Party leaders.[54] He is also a board member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded organization that has pushed for strict photo ID laws in at least thirty-seven states.[55]

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.[56]

Seitz has said that charges of voter suppression in Ohio amounted to “posturing by Democrats” and “tinfoil-hat voter-suppression claims.”[57] He apparently sees no irony in labeling concerns about voter suppression as “tinfoil-hat” conspiracy theories even though he has repeatedly compared Ohio’s alternative energy requirements to “Joseph Stalin’s five-year plan” to modernize Russia’s industry, and has referred to opponents of his energy proposals as members of the “envirosocialist movement.”[58]

State Representative Mike Dovilla

State Representative Mike Dovilla is an outspoken advocate for voter suppression policies who has supported limiting early voting and making it easier to purge Ohio’s voter rolls.

He supported the legislation that cut back on early voting and he praised the elimination of Golden Week, during which Ohio voters were able to register to vote and early vote in the same period, stating that, “voting takes place in a two-stage process. One, you register. Two, you vote. Those don’t take place together.”[59]

Dovilla also voiced his support for SB 200, a bill that was signed into law by Governor Kasich in 2013. It required state agencies to provide voter-related information to help keep the secretary of state’s voter rolls up-to-date, and also lowered the minimum number of voting machines required for each county. Critics of the legislation argued that the bill would make it easier for the secretary of state’s office to purge the Ohio voter rolls. Dovilla stated that the bill “will allow our election officials to more efficiently manage our electoral process, and at the same time, assist voters in keeping their voter registrations accurate.”[60]

He 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.[61]

Ohio’s Local Election Board Members 

On The Front Lines of Voter Suppression (and Racially Charged Commentary) 

Every county in Ohio has a four-member board of elections that consists of two members nominated from each major political party, who are then appointed by the secretary of state. County boards of elections are responsible for, among other election administration duties, voter registration, establishing precincts, managing petitions, and counting votes. County boards of elections used to set their own early voting hours; since 2012, however, Secretary of State Jon Husted has set uniform, statewide early voting schedules for all of Ohio’s counties.[62]

When members of county boards of elections are unable to reach an agreement on election issues, the secretary of state may be called on to cast the tie-breaking vote. This is particularly significant for politically divisive voting issues that are likely to pit the two Democratic board members against the two Republican board members in any county.

Because board members are nominated by county political parties, there is a great deal of overt partisanship on county boards of elections. Republican members of county election boards have voted for measures that make voting harder for low-income and minority voters in their counties, and have clear political motivations for keeping certain voters away from the polls.

While this report examines boards of elections in the four most populous counties in Ohio– Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton and Summit–voter suppression advocates administer elections in counties throughout Ohio. In Montgomery County, for example, county board of elections member Kay Wick is an outspoken conservative who has voted to cut early voting, including weekend voting.[63] Similarly, in Trumbull County, board of elections member Ron Knight has repeatedly proposed drastically cutting the number of precincts in the county.[64]

The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections

The two Republican members of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, Rob Frost and Jeff Hastings, are both highly partisan political figures who voted for changes in election policy that made it more difficult for Cuyahoga County voters to cast their ballots.

Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Member Rob Frost

Rob Frost is a strongly partisan voice on the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. In addition to serving on the board, he is a Republican lobbyist and chairman of the Cuyahoga County Republican Party.[65]

He voted against extending early voting hours in 2008, although former Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of longer hours, saying that “a county with a large number of registered voters and a complex economy such as Cuyahoga County needs to accommodate the work schedules of as many voters as possible.”[66] Frost also has voted against printing bilingual ballots for the entire county, which would make it easier for Spanish speakers to vote.[67]

Frost has argued that cutting early voting is not a form of voter suppression. 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.” Frost called criticism of the early voting cuts “a complete non-issue and an absolute ruse by certain elected officials.”[68]

He has been a vocal supporter of voter identification, including strict photo ID laws that have failed to become law in Ohio.[69] While Frost was Chairman of the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County, the party released a platform that advocated for a photo ID requirement for voting, which read, in part, “Voter photo identification is the central element in nearly every democracy in the developed world.”[70]

Frost defended controversial billboards threatening penalties for voter fraud that were displayed in minority communities before the 2012 presidential election. The billboards, which read “Voter fraud is a felony” and listed potential criminal penalties for voter fraud, were criticized by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which found that the billboards seemed to target neighborhoods with high minority populations. The group argued that the billboards “stigmatize the African-American community by implying that voter fraud is a more significant problem in African-American neighborhoods than elsewhere” and “attach an implicit threat of criminal prosecution to the civic act of voting.” Frost brushed off concerns about the billboards: “It appears to not be a discriminatory effort but a region-wide effort that someone wants to get the word out about voter fraud.” Frost added, “Raising awareness about voter fraud and keeping this election fair helps us all have confidence in the results.”[71]

Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Member Jeff Hastings

Jeff Hastings voted against a number of measures while on the Board of Elections that would make voting easier for voters in Cuyahoga County. He twice, in 2008 and 2012, voted against expanding early voting.[72] Hastings also voted against printing bilingual ballots for the entire county, which would make it easier for Spanish speakers to vote, and also voted against attempting to continue Cuyahoga County’s successful vote-by-mail program after Secretary of State Husted issued a directive prohibiting county election boards from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications.[73]

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.[74]

The Franklin County Board of Elections

The two Republican members of the Franklin County Board of Elections, Doug Preisse and Brad Sinnott, are vocal conservatives who have opposed expanding early voting in the county.[75] Both also serve as the top-ranking officials of the Franklin County Republican Party, with Preisse serving as Chairman of the Executive Committee and Sinnott serving as Chairman of the Central Committee.[76]

Franklin County Board of Elections Member Doug Preisse

Doug Preisse is actively involved in local partisan politics in Ohio beyond his seat on the Franklin County Board of Elections. In addition to serving as Chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party, Preisse is a top advisor to Governor Kasich and has been called “the most connected lobbyist in Ohio.”[77]

He made national headlines 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 in the state, who criticized Preisse’s stance on suppressing minority voters as well as the racial tone it brought to the statewide battle on early voting in Ohio.[78]

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.”[79]

In 2008, early voting hours could not be expanded because the two Republican members of the Franklin County Board of Elections, including Preisse, refused to appear for the scheduled meeting. The board members were meant to vote on extending Sunday voting hours after voters, the previous weekend, encountered hours-long waits at the polls and lines extending out of buildings and onto the sidewalks. Preisse claimed that Democrats wanted to take advantage of a Barack Obama rally that day at the Statehouse, near [one of] the polling place[s].[80]

The Hamilton County Board of Elections

The two Republican members of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, 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 and Gerhardt have opposed their two Democratic colleagues on the Board of Elections on numerous voting questions. For example, both members voted against sending absentee ballot applications to every voter in the county before a law went into effect that prohibited counties from sending such applications.[81]

Hamilton County Board of Elections Member Alex M. Triantafilou

Alex Triantafilou, a Republican member of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, is a vocal supporter of voter suppression policies who also serves as Chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party.[82]

Triantafilou praised the efforts to purge Hamilton County’s voter rolls by the Ohio Voter Integrity Project, an offshoot of the national voter suppression group True the Vote, led by members of various Tea Party groups in Ohio. The group targeted voter registrations in Hamilton County prior to the 2012 presidential election, and Caleb Faux, a Democratic member of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, questioned the alleged nonpartisanship of the Ohio Voter Integrity Project, saying, “I don’t buy it. The True the Vote people are clearly going after Democratic voters: African-Americans, students, and other groups they think are likely to vote Democratic.”[83]

Triantafilou, however, said the Ohio Voter Integrity Project was performing “an important public service,” claiming that the county election boards “wouldn’t know to take those folks off the rolls if it weren’t for this project.”[84] The Ohio Voter Integrity Project challenged 380 voter registrations in Hamilton County in September 2012 with only one minor success: the county Board of Elections voted to challenge the registrations of thirty-five people if they attempted to vote where they were currently registered.[85]

He is an outspoken believer in widespread voter fraud, despite the lack of evidence that it exists. Triantafilou appeared on the Fox News Channel claiming that voter fraud was “a real problem.”[86] After forty-eight cases of potential voter fraud cases were identified in Hamilton County’s 2012 general election (or, 0.011 percent of the 421,997 votes cast) and six people were charged, Triantafilou said that the attention to voter fraud was “overdue.” Triantafilou stated, “These allegations are serious. The board did the work it needed to do and should continue to root out fraud.”[87]

Triantafilou spoke in favor of a photo ID bill proposed in 2011 that, had it passed, would have been the strictest voter ID law in the country at the time. He claimed that the law “just protects every citizens right to vote by assuring their identity” and said, “I don’t think it makes it harder to vote.”[88]

He is a highly partisan Republican who said, in December 2015, that he would support Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee because “it’s the right thing to do” as a Republican. Triantafilou said, “Anybody is better than Hillary Clinton” He added, “If Donald Trump is our nominee, I will fall in line and support him. It’s the right thing to do.”[89]

Triantafilou supported the statewide cuts to early voting made in 2012, which limited early voting, and claimed criticism that the cuts would disenfranchise minority voters was an attempt by Democrats to “demonize Republicans as trying to suppress the vote when the opposite is true.” He claimed that no voters were being disenfranchised as a result of the limited early voting hours.[90]

Hamilton County Board of Elections Member Charles H. Gerhardt, III

Charles H. “Chip” Gerhardt, III, the other Republican member of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, is also active in Ohio partisan politics.

He is a Republican lobbyist and former Vice Chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party. According to his biography from Government Strategies Group, LLC—the Cincinnati-based lobbying firm of which he is founder and president—Gerhardt was recently “involved in several statewide campaigns including John Kasich for Governor, Josh Mandel for Treasurer and Mike DeWine for Attorney General” and “supported fundraising efforts for the McCain-Palin and Bush-Cheney campaigns in Ohio, and for Speaker John Boehner.”[91]

The Summit County Board of Elections

 The two Republican members of the Summit County Board of Elections, Alex R. Arshinkoff and Bryan Williams, are both Republican lobbyists tasked with nonpartisan election administration duties. Arshinkoff, in particular, has a long and controversial career in Republican politics that may shed light on his partisan efforts to influence Summit County elections.

Summit County Board of Elections Member Alex R. Arshinkoff

Alex R. Arshinkoff is perhaps the most controversial Ohio political figure currently serving on a county board of elections. Arshinkoff, known as the “Republican Godfather of Summit County,” has served on the Summit County Board of Elections for over 30 years. He has faced harsh criticism—from Democrats and Republicans alike—over the course of his long political career.

In addition to serving on the Summit County Board of Elections, Arshinkoff, a longtime Republican fundraiser and lobbyist, is also the chairman of the Summit County Republican Party, which he has led since 1978. He is also a leading Ohio fundraiser for Republican candidates across the nation–he raised $2.8 million to elect President George W. Bush in 2000.[92]

Arshinkoff is a big-budget lobbyist who has repeatedly faced criticism for alleged conflicts of interest. He especially has been criticized for fundraising for Republican candidates and lobbying them after he helped get them elected. In 2011, for example, Arshinkoff was awarded a $120,000 subcontract to lobby for the state-funded University of Akron after his county party raised $400,000 for state GOP candidates, including $150,000 for Governor Kasich.[93] Arshinkoff claimed he expected no special treatment from Kasich or Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor, a Summit County Republican whose political career was shaped by Arshinkoff’s support.[94]

He lost his seat on the Summit County Election Board in 2008, the same year he came close to losing his party chairmanship, which was challenged by a group of Republicans who accused Arshinkoff of abusing his power for personal gain.[95]

Former Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner refused to approve Arshinkoff’s nomination in 2008, after the Summit County Republican Party nominated its chairman for reappointment to the board of elections. Brunner said, “It would be inappropriate to have him serve longer.” The secretary of state said there was evidence that Arshinkoff created an overly partisan atmosphere at the Summit County Board of Elections, and wrote, “Credible claims indicate that [Arshinkoff] berated staff and created a hostile work environment in which board employees have endured coercion if not outright threats.” Brunner also noted that she received affidavits from three judges who said they had been threatened by Arshinkoff.[96] The previous year, audio of a voicemail had surfaced in which Arshinkoff threatened a public official after his wife received a zoning violation for displaying a large political sign.[97]

Arshinkoff was reappointed to the Summit County Board of Elections three years later, when his nomination was approved by Secretary of State Jon Husted.[98]

Since reclaiming his seat on the Summit County Board of Elections, Arshinkoff 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.[99]

Voter Suppression Groups in Ohio

Voter suppression groups, both national and Ohio-based, are active in advocating for disenfranchising policies, spreading misinformation on alleged voter fraud, and lobbying and influencing Ohio elected officials. While they claim to be nonpartisan, these groups all have links to far-right organizations and partisan leaders.

True the Vote and Ohio Voter Integrity Project

True the Vote and its state branch, the Ohio Voter Integrity Project, have been the most high-profile groups in Ohio working to disenfranchise voters.

True the Vote is a Houston-based national organization that advocates for voter suppression policies and engages in fear-mongering tactics about virtually nonexistent election fraud. Founded by Tea Party activist Catherine Engelbrecht, the organization has been extremely successful in promoting voter suppression policies around the country and its work has bolstered legislative efforts in at least thirty-seven states to require voter ID at the polls.[100] The organization has been criticized for intimidating minority voters at polling places–where their trained poll watchers aim to leave “no polling place unmanned” to guard against election fraud–and has advocated for a range of voter suppression policies, including large-scale voter purges.[101]

Challenges of Ohio Voter Rolls

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.[102] In early 2016, the organization announced that by assisting election officials in Cuyahoga and Franklin Counties, it had successfully removed more than a thousand duplicate registrations from the voter rolls ahead of the 2016 presidential primary. True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht stated that, “Because of Ohio’s consistent role as a decisive swing state in America’s elections, it has a duty to ensure that its voter records are in the best shape possible.”[103]

Along with the right-wing group, Judicial Watch, True the Vote sued Secretary of State Husted in 2012, arguing that the number of registered voters in several counties exceeded the population, and about two dozen other counties were close to 100 percent voter registration. The organization argued that these high percentages suggested a violation of the National Voter Registration Act, which requires election officials to make a reasonable effort to maintain voter lists free from ineligible voters.[104] Husted entered in a legal settlement with the groups in 2014 and agreed that the state of Ohio would participate in Kansas Secretary of State and voter suppression advocate Kris Kobach’s Interstate Crosscheck program.[105]

True the Vote has organized in Ohio through its state branch, the Ohio Voter Integrity Project, which is also affiliated with several Tea Party groups.[106] Before the 2012 elections, True the Vote and the Ohio Voter Integrity Project held workshops throughout Ohio to teach volunteers how to challenge voter registrations.[107]

One Hamilton County resident whose voter registration was challenged by the Voter Integrity Project in 2012 described the group’s actions as harassment. 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.”[10*]

The Ohio Voter Integrity Project also focused on removing college students from the voter rolls for not specifying their dorm room numbers. Notably college students leaned heavily towards Obama in the 2012 presidential elections.[109]

Before the 2012 elections, the Ohio Voter Integrity Project challenged voters in fourteen counties, nine of which were won by Obama in 2008. In several counties, all or nearly all of their challenges were dismissed.[110]

The Ohio Voter Integrity Project advocated totally eliminating early voting, tweeting that, if Election Day was a national holiday “we could get younger and better educated people to work the polls and we wouldn’t need #EarlyVoting.” In an effort to pressure Ohio to join Kris Kobach’s Interstate Crosscheck program, the group promoted the controversial program on social media while True the Vote was suing Secretary of State Jon Husted in 2012.[109]

Controversial Poll Watcher Program

In addition to promoting voter roll purging, True the Vote and the Ohio Voter Integrity Project also organize poll watchers to monitor polling places around Ohio 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. Voting rights groups have noted that white poll watchers in minority neighborhoods can have a disenfranchising effect on voters even if there is no direct interaction.[112]

In Ohio, True the Vote held training sessions for poll watchers organized by the Ohio Voter Integrity Project before the 2012 elections, which were criticized as problematic. In Hamilton County, the Voter Integrity Project said their poll watcher training would “show you what your secretary of state might not show you.”[113] 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.”[114]

Peg Rosenfield of the Ohio League of Women Voters said the tone of the training left her “disturbed and frankly a little frightened.” Rosenfield added, “The goal–voter integrity, accurate registration records and fair elections–is one we all share. We’re all on the same page. But I really question this approach. They claim to be nonpartisan, but what I’ve been hearing is not nonpartisan.”[115] In response to the training led by the Ohio Voter Integrity Project, the League of Women Voters of Ohio sent a letter to Secretary of State Husted asking him to instruct elections boards to inform poll workers that conduct must be based solely on state-sanctioned training, voicing their concerns about “information that third parties are providing outside training to poll workers that differs from the official training.”[116]

The poll monitoring project organized by True the Vote and the Ohio Voter Integrity Project was so controversial that it was rejected in Franklin County after most of the candidates withdrew their backing of True the Vote with the elections board. Under Ohio law, groups of at least five candidates may assign poll observers, but the Franklin County Election Board stated that the True the Vote poll observers’ “appointments were not properly filed, and our voting-location managers were instructed not to honor any appointment on behalf of the True the Vote group.” True the Vote’s president called Franklin County’s rejection of their poll watchers “dangerous and offensive,” and “a final, desperate attempt to deny citizens their right to observe elections.”[117]

True the Vote and Ohio Voter Integrity Project: Hardly “Nonpartisan”

True the Vote claims that the group is focused only on ensuring fair elections and is not partisan. The group’s founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, said, “This has never been and never will be about politics.” She added, “This is not a partisan effort.”[118]

However, the partisan motivations behind the right-wing group are clear. The Ohio Voter Integrity Project, which is led by members of various Tea Party groups around Ohio, has been criticized for the partisan tone of its poll observer training sessions. It has also been criticized for tailoring its voter roll purging efforts in a partisan way. Caleb Faux, a Democratic member of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, said of the group’s alleged nonpartisanship, “I don’t buy it. The True the Vote people are clearly going after Democratic voters: African-Americans, students, and other groups they think are likely to vote Democratic.”[119]

True the Vote has been criticized on a national level for focusing its poll watchers and voter registration challenges on minority communities that traditionally vote Democratic. Even Engelbrecht acknowledges the partisan motivations behind her group’s effort to fight alleged election fraud: “You don’t need a whole lot of election fraud; you just need a little bit in the right places to swing an election.”[120]

Ohio Christian Alliance

The 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 is vocal about its concern over voter fraud. After the 2012 presidential election, for example, the Ohio Christian Alliance released a “citizens audit” that alleged numerous instances of voter fraud.[121]

Chris Long, the president of the group, claims that there is “a growing trend of voter fraud in the battleground state of Ohio,” in reference to an analysis from the secretary of state’s office that found cases of possible voter fraud made up 0.0048 percent of votes cast in the 2012 election.[122] The organization, which claims to lobby for “pro-life, pro-family legislation,” has lobbied Ohio state legislators on voter suppression measures.[123]

The group has repeatedly advocated for photo ID requirements at the polls, despite the disproportionate impact the policy would have on low-income and minority voters. The Ohio Christian Alliance hosted a press conference at the Ohio Statehouse with State Rep. Andy Brenner when he introduced a strict photo ID law in 2015.[124] The previous year, the group supported the discharge petition circulated by a group of Republicans state legislators in an attempt to force a vote on a photo ID bill. Long said that, if the discharge petition failed (which it did), the Ohio Christian Alliance would attempt to amend the Ohio Constitution to require a photo ID at the polls through a ballot initiative.[125]

The Ohio Christian Alliance also opposed a bill that would allow online voter registration in 2016, despite the legislation’s bipartisan support. Long testified against the bill before the Ohio House’s Government Accountability and Oversight Committee, claiming that his organization was “not totally opposed to the idea of eventual online voter registration” but “that going into the presidential election in 2016, this is not a good time to implement this bill.” Long cited security concerns as the rationale behind opposing online voter registration, saying that Ohio’s status as a battleground state would make it a target for hackers to commit voter fraud.[126]

Formed in 2006, the Ohio Christian Alliance broke off from the national Christian Coalition of America.[127] When the registered nonprofit claimed it had lost at least $50,000 in donations because the IRS delayed its tax status.[126] The group has briefly lost its business registration status with the State of Ohio for failure to file reinstatement paperwork.[129]

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. “The legislature and Ohioans never intended for people to register and vote on the same day,” Long wrote. Everyone can see the fraud possiblities [sic] in that. Everyone, of course, except this judge.”[130]

He praised Secretary of State Husted for doing “a great job of cleaning up the voter rolls of the deceased statewide. This has been a collaboration with other states, i.e., Florida, where Ohioans have gone to retire and passed away, but remained on voter rolls. Obviously, it was a loophole through which those who wanted to commit fraud could do so. The system he put in place is sound and efficient.”[131]

Long 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.”[132] 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.”[133]

Long also believes that “Trump is right about illegal immigration from the south and what a huge problem it is,” and that “Trump is right about the problem of the open border.”[134]

Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions

The Buckeye Institute For Public Policy Solutions, a Columbus-based, conservative organization, has actively advocated for voter suppression policies in Ohio.

When the elimination of the Golden Week of 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. Nor does it invalidate voting practices simply because they do not result in statistically proportionate outcomes. Section 2 [of the Voting Rights Act] is ‘an equal-treatment requirement,’ not ‘an equal-outcome command.’”[135]

Although the Buckeye Institute describes itself as a non-profit, non-partisan research and education institute, or “think tank,” it is an openly conservative organization. The former chairman of the Buckeye Institute, Rick Segal, in 2007 described the Buckeye Institute as “committed to asserting conservative ideals as loudly and aggressively as ever.”[136]

The Institute’s top donors include several organizations linked to the Koch brothers, including Donors Capital Fund, State Policy Network, and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.[137]


Officials at all levels of Ohio’s government have engaged in what amounts to a long-term assault on voting rights. Voter suppression policies—cuts to early and weekend voting, restrictive voter ID laws, and other policies that make voting less accessible—disproportionately affect minorities, senior citizens, the disabled, and low-income voters who should be encouraged to turn out and exercise their constitutional rights to vote.

Despite what some Ohio officials have expressed, voting is a right, not a privilege. These officials are failing all Ohioans when they are motivated by partisanship and engage in racially charged rhetoric while serving in roles intended to impartially administer elections and protect voting rights. Voter suppression policies do not simply make it more difficult for Ohioans to vote–they also strip constitutional rights from largely minority voters, all for the purpose of partisan, political gain.

End Notes

[1] Joe Milica, “Officials Expect Voter ID Requirement to Complicate Fall Election,” Associated Press, June 9, 2006.

[2] “FAQs: Identification Requirements,” Office of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted website, accessed August 16, 2016, http://www.sos.state.oh.us/sos/elections/voters/FAQ/ID.aspx.

[3] Julie Carr Smyth, “Senate Considers Voter-ID Provision,” Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, December 6, 2005.

[4] Jim Provance, “Election Law Opponents May Try to Get Voters to Repeal Measure: Some Provisions Take Effect with Ohio’s May 2 Primary,” Toledo (OH) Blade, February 2, 2006.

[5] Matt Leingang, “Ohio Seeks to Appeal Judge’s Suspension of Voter ID Law,” Associated Press, October 27, 2006.

[6] Associated Press, “Appeals Court Backs Ohio on Voter ID,” New York Times, November 1, 2006.

[7] Mark Rollenhagen, “Absentee Voter ID Rules Are Suspended: Court Settlement Also Expands Documents That Can Be Used for In-Person Voting Nov. 7,” Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, November 2, 2006.

[8] “House Bill 189,” The Ohio Legislature website, accessed August 16, 2016, https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/legislation/legislation-status?id=GA131-HB-189; and “HB 189 Bill Analysis,” The Ohio Legislature website, accessed August 16, 2016, https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/download?key=3987&format=pdf.

[9] Aaron Marshall, “Ohio House Approves Legislation Requiring State Photo ID to Vote” Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, March 24, 2011.

[10] Laura Bischoff, “Photo ID Bill on Fast Track for OK: House Approved It in March, the Senate Expected to Pass It This Week,” Dayton (OH) Daily News, June 22, 2011.

[11] Jim Provance, “Voting Change Lacks Support: State Senate to Remove College-Student Provision,” Toledo (OH) Blade, May 18, 2013.

[12] Editorial Board, “Tuition Break: A State Senator Voices Skepticism About a House Ploy,” Akron (OH) Beacon Journal, May 7, 2013.

[13] Richard Pérez-Peña, “Ohio Limits on Voting Are Illegal, Judge Says,” New York Times, May 25, 2016.

[14] Wendy Weiser, “Voter Suppression: How Bad?,” American Prospect 25, no. 5 (Fall 2014).

[15] Jackie Borchardt, “Ohio House Passes Bills to Change Absentee Ballot Rules, Eliminate Six Days of Early Voting,” Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, February 19, 2014.

[16] Robert Higgs, “Kasich Signs Voting Bills That End Golden Week and Limit Distribution of Absentee Ballots,” Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, February 21, 2014.

[17] Robert Wang, “Ohioans Will Be Able [sic] Register Online to Vote,” Canton (OH) Repository, June 17, 2016.

[18] Jim Siegel, “House OKs Online Voter Registration — After Fall Election,” Columbus (OH) Dispatch, May 25, 2016.

[19] Michael Finnegan, “Tea Party Groups Work to Remove Names from Ohio Voter Rolls,” Los Angeles Times, September 26, 2012.

[20] Dan Horn, “Early Voting Focus of Race,” Lancaster (OH) Eagle Gazette, October 20, 2014.

[21] Spencer Woodman, “Exclusive: Ohio GOP’s Secret Voting Scheme Deliberations,” Salon, May 5, 2014, accessed August 16, 2016, http://www.salon.com/2014/05/05/exclusive_new_emails_reveal_ohio_gops_voting_scheme_deliberations/.

[22] Jeremy Pelzer, “Husted Sets Statewide Early-Voting Hours for General Election, Sundays Not Included,” Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, February 25, 2014.

[23] Andrew Tobias, “Black Clergy Protest Elimination of ‘Souls to the Polls’ and Evening Early Voting in 2014” Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, March 6, 2014.

[24] Jackie Borchardt, “Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Cuts to Early Voting Hours in Ohio,” Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, May 1, 2014.

[25] Robert Higgs, “ACLU, Secretary of State Jon Husted Settle Federal Lawsuit Over Access to Early Voting in Ohio,” Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, April 17, 2015.

[26] Pérez-Peña, “Ohio Limits on Voting Are Illegal.”

[27] Robert Barnes, “Supreme Court denies bid to expand early voting in Ohio,” Washington Post, September 13, 2016, accessed September 27, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/supreme-court-denies-bid-to-add-early-voting-days-in-ohio/2016/09/13/10edf340-792b-11e6-bd86-b7bbd53d2b5d_story.html.

[28] Julie Carr Smyth, “Ohio Senate Postpones Vote on Photo ID Bill,” Associated Press, June 24, 2011; and Sabrina Eaton, “New State Voting Laws Cause Controversy: Critics Fear Turnout Will Suffer,” Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, August 5, 2012.

[29] Joe Guillen, “Ohio House Votes to Repeal Controversial Election Law,” Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, May 8, 2012.

[30] Ann Sanner, “High Court Won’t Block Early Voting in Ohio,” Associated Press, October 16, 2012.

[31] Editorial Board, “In Resisting Final-Weekend Voting, Husted Takes the Wrong Fight Too Far,” Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, October 10, 2012.

[32] Jackie Borchardt, “Ban Sought on Purging of Inactive Voters,” Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, December 3, 2015.

[33] Andy Sullivan and Grant Smith, “Use It or Lose It: Occasional Ohio Voters May Be Shut out in November,” Reuters, June 2, 2016.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Jane Mayer, “The Voter-Fraud Myth: The Man Who Has Stoked Fear About Impostors at the Polls,” The New Yorker, October 29, 2012.

[36] Zachary Roth, “It’s Official: Ohio Signs on to Tea Party Voter ‘Purge’ Scheme,” MSNBC, January 14, 2014, accessed August 16, 2016, http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/ohio-signs-tea-party-voter-purge-scheme#49688.

[37] Greg Palast, “Jim Crow Returns,” Al Jazeera America, October 29, 2014, accessed August 16, 2016, http://projects.aljazeera.com/2014/double-voters/index.html.

[38] Martha Dalton, “Critics Question Georgia’s Participation in Crosscheck Voter System,” WABE, November 3, 2014, accessed August 16, 2016, http://news.wabe.org/post/critics-question-georgias-participation-crosscheck-voter-system.

[39] James McNair, “Feds Join Suit Over Ohio Voter Registration Purge,” Cleveland (OH) Scene, July 27, 2016, accessed August 16, 2016, http://www.clevescene.com/scene-and-heard/archives/2016/07/27/feds-join-suit-over-ohio-voter-registration-purge.

[40] Robert Higgs, “Federal court says Ohio’s system for purging voters violates federal laws,” Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, September 23, 2016, accessed September 27, 2016, http://www.cleveland.com/open/index.ssf/2016/09/federal_court_says_ohios_syste.html.

[41] http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/08/03/lawsuit-ballots-tossed-minor-errors/87964592/ and http://www.cleveland.com/open/index.ssf/2016/03/legitimate_ballots_werent_coun.html

[42] Robert Higgs, “U.S. appellate panel says some Ohio voting restrictions unfair, but restores others,” Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, September 13, 2016, accessed September 27, 2016, http://www.cleveland.com/open/index.ssf/2016/09/us_appellate_panel_says_some_o.html.

[43] Michelle Rotuno-Johnson and Duane Pohlman, “Secretary of State says 17-year-olds cannot vote for president in Ohio primary,” WMCH-TV Columbus, March 7, 2016, accessed September 19, 2016, http://nbc4i.com/2016/03/07/secretary-of-state-says-17-year-olds-cannot-vote-for-president-in-ohio-primary/.

[44] Ann Sanner, “Judge: 17-Year-Olds Can Vote in Ohio Presidential Primary,” The (SC) State, March 11, 2016, accessed August 16, 2016, http://www.thestate.com/news/politics-government/article65587272.html; and “UPDATE: Statement from Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted,” Office of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted website, March 11, 2016, accessed August 16, 2016, http://www.sos.state.oh.us/SOS/mediaCenter/2016/2016-03-11-a.aspx.

[45] Erich Lach, “Ohio State Rep: ‘Public Education in America Is Socialism, What Is the Solution?,’” Talking Points Memo, March 13, 2014, accessed August 16, 2016, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/andrew-brenner-education-socialism.

[46] “House Bill 189,” The Ohio Legislature website; “HB 189 Bill Analysis,” The Ohio Legislature website; and Ohio Christian Alliance website, Press Advisory, April 28, 2015, accessed August 16, 2016, http://www.ohioca.org/enews.php?PRESS-ADVISORY-April-28-2015-469.

[47] Jackie Borchardt, “Bainbridge Rep. Matt Lynch and House Republicans Push Voter Photo ID Bill,” Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, September 3, 2014.

[48] Chrissie Thompson, “Legislature Set to Pass More Voting Limitations,” Coshocton (OH) Tribune, February 12, 2014.

[49] Borchardt, “Bainbridge Rep. Matt Lynch and House Republicans.”

[50] John E. Becker, “Is Jesus Christ a Liberal? A Rebuttal to Bud Hines,” Letter to the Editor, August 5, 1994, accessed via Rep. John Becker’s website on August 16, 2016, http://www.beckergop.com/Other/Letters/Bud_Hines.htm.

[51] Jim Siegel, “General Assembly GOP Freshman No Shrinking Violet,” Columbus (OH) Dispatch, December 29, 2014.

[52] Dan Horn, “GOP: Require Cash for Longer Vote Hours,” Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, April 15, 2016.

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