With the presidential election looming and Ohio emerging as the crucial state in the final Electoral College vote count, some Democrats and activists are looking warily at Secretary of State Jon Husted, the man some say could decide the election in the state, and therefore in the country.
In fact, some Democrats are preemptively comparing Husted, 45, to Florida’s infamous Secretary of State during the 2000 election, Katherine Harris, who simultaneously served as a state co-chair for President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign; or to a previous Ohio Republican secretary of state, Ken Blackwell, who many Democrats believe presided over the manipulation of election results in 2004, when Sen. John Kerry narrowly lost Ohio and with it, the presidency.
In raising questions about Husted’s capacity to run a non-partisan election, critics both inside and outside Ohio point to Husted’s appearances at Tea Party events and his brief flirtation with the “poll watching” group True the Vote.
Husted has had a quick rise in Ohio politics. The Michigan native served in the Ohio state house from 2001 to 2009, the last four years as speaker. He then won a state Senate seat, where he served for two years before winning the office vacated by Democratic secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, who ran an ill-fated U.S. Senate primary campaign.
He was described this way in an article by Andrew Cohen in The Atlantic:
Over the past year, in one election-related fight after another, Husted has proven to be a relentless partisan, the national face of voter suppression. Now, with one week to go before a close election, an election which many political observers believe could come down to Ohio, Husted is about to become something else: an unabashed local partisan who could very well decide who wins by deciding which rules apply. Is America ready for this? Ready for this man to be the one supervising the vote counting in the only state left that seems to matter?
Husted took his fight to curtail early voting hours in Ohio all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, after first defying a federal judge’s order that he reinstate voting on the weekend before election day and then backing down and apologizing the the court after the judge ordered him to appear and explain himself.
As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reported in August, the dispute began when Husted stepped in to break a series of ties in counties with two Democratic and two Republican election officials, on the question of whether to hold extended voting hours. Husted routinely sided with the Republicans in rural, GOP-heavy counties that wanted to extend voting hours to the weekends, but voted to break ties in largely urban, Democratic leaning counties in favor of Republicans, who wanted to hold early voting only during weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Democrats and voting rights advocates argued that Husted’s actions would have resulted in Republicans in Ohio having more days and hours to vote than Democrats. Husted ultimately ordered uniform voting hours across Ohio, with limited hours the weekend before Election Day, and even fired two Democratic elections officials who pushed to open their early voting location on weekends. Under Ohio law, county elections boards are permitted to set their own voting hours.
And while earlier in his tenure he resisted the idea, Husted has recently hinted the he might reverse his opposition to passing a strict photo ID law in the state — a Tea Party priority.
Most recently, he successfully fought in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court to stay a lower court’s order that so called “wrong-place/wrong-precinct” ballots be counted. Thursday’s ruling means that voters who cast provisional ballots at the wrong table in a polling place that houses multiple precincts, or voters who vote on provisional ballots at the wrong polling place altogether, will have their votes thrown out, even if the mistake was the fault of a poll worker.
Democrats say Husted’s unsuccessful effort to curtail early voting are just part of the problem.
An apparent “glitch” in the forwarding of information from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to local elections offices has jeopardized potentially 33,000 absentee voters’ ballots. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
A small fraction of Ohio voters’ absentee ballot requests may have been mistakenly rejected due to a recently discovered glitch in the transfer of change-of-address records.
Even though the deadline for voters to register or change their address was three weeks ago, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted just this week sent about 33,000 updated registration records to local elections officials. The local boards had to immediately process the records to ensure those voters could properly cast a ballot in the Nov. 6 election.
An unknown number of absentee ballot applications across the state have been rejected due to the delay because election officials did not have some voters’ current addresses.
And state Democratic officials and voting rights advocates are faulting Husted’s office for falling to reinstate thousands of voters wrongly removed from the rolls, including in Democratic strongholds like Franklin and Cuyahoga Counties, before Election Day. Ironically, Husted had been under pressure since early in the year from the right-wing group Judicial Watch and True the Vote to purge Ohio’ voter rolls. The two even sued Husted’s office claiming it wasn’t purging voters fast enough.