Statehouse Democrats say Ohio’s top elections official isn’t complying with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it comes to the way provisional ballots are being handled. But the Secretary of State says those special ballots are being handled in the way required by law. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports on the controversy.
Democratic State Senator Nina Turner says the Civil Rights Act of 1964 says no one’s legal vote should be denied because of an error or omission on applications or registrations.
Yet she says that’s exactly what’s happening. She says Secretary of State Husted is violating the act by allowing local boards of elections to throw away votes because of errors by poll workers or voters. And she says that’s just a way to disenfranchise those voters.
TURNER: "Right now, when it comes to provisional ballots, the secretary has the power in his hands to absolutely do the right thing and let the people vote. And if he needs more help in understanding what his obligation to do that, then I recommend he reads the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If he needs to understand why this is important, I want him to understand the history of voting in this country and how hard it has been for various groups to vote -- and just do the right thing."
Democratic State Representative Kathleen Clyde says there are two house races -- one in the area she represents -- where provisional ballots will determine the outcome. And if Republicans win both of those seats, the GOP will have a super majority in the Ohio House. Clyde says that’s why it’s important that every legal provisional ballot be counted. And she says that’s not happening now.
CLYDE: "For example. If one of the blanks isn’t filled out -- or it’s filled out in one place and not another. Ballots are getting thrown away if the stub happens to be detached from the ballot even though it’s very clear whose ballot it is, and that the voter is qualified to vote. In one case in Tuscarawas County, a poll worker put ballots in the wrong envelope so a paperwork mistake -- 100 percent caused by the poll worker -- yet all of those ballots are being rejected. And those voters were qualified to vote and we should count their ballots, especially in light of this federal law that we have found that we believe is very important."
Secretary of State Jon Husted takes issue with the Democrats.
HUSTED: "This is just another round of baseless allegations where they throw issues at the wall, hoping something will stick. And like usual, they’re wrong and their allegations are flatly untrue. At this point, I have to say that it’s irresponsible of them to say things like that."
Husted says local boards of elections, not his office, are counting the provisional ballots. And he says they are doing so in the way that’s required by law.
HUSTED: "We follow the federal and state laws. Our decisions have been upheld by the federal court systems. And we ran one of the best elections Ohio can remember in the recent past. And it’s time to move on, get past this election. And if they want to change the laws to change how we deal with provisional ballots, they are welcome to do that."
But it’s doubtful Democrats themselves will be changing any laws on their own.
Regardless of what happens in the two close house races, Republicans will still control the Ohio House and Senate. So any changes that might be made to the process would have to win their approval.