Voter advocates and state officials say that a recent directive by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted regarding provisional ballots gives the elections chief greater license to disenfranchise voters, and have asked the court to intervene.
Attorneys for the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Service Employees International Union Local 1199 -- who previously sued over provisional ballot language -- have asked U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley to clarify a previous decree that authorizes that poll workers to be responsible for incomplete or missing information on ballot ID forms.
At issue is a section of the form that Mr. Husted released as part of a directive issued late Friday that orders elections boards to reject provisional ballots that are incomplete, and requires the voter to record the form of ID they are using rather than the worker, said Subodh Chandra, one of the attorneys who filed the motion asking for court clarification after noting Mr. Husted's directive.
The court ruled on Oct. 26 that such ballots should be counted, ruling that "it is the election official's, and not the voter's, duty to record any identification proffered by a voter."
"Why, when a government worker blunders, should our liberties be lost?" Mr. Chandra said. "This increases the likelihood that there will be mistakes, and [Mr. Husted] has insisted that mistakes mean ... don't count the vote."
Mr. Chandra said in 2008 there were 14,000 provisional votes that were deemed invalid, and that Mr. Husted's directive increases the chances that the 2012 election will produce ballot rejection in greater numbers.
But Matt McClellan, spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office, said the provisional ballot form is the same one the office has been using for elections throughout the year, and that Mr. Husted's directive was issued for no other reason than to be in compliance with the court rulings and to avoid confusion on Election Day.
"If anything, these individuals bringing this up at the 11th hour ... is what's causing the confusion," Mr. McClellan said.
A decision was not expected before Election Day, but Judge Marbley indicated late Friday he'll rule before Nov. 17, when provisional ballots are counted in Ohio. Mr. Husted has until Tuesday to reply to the motion, Mr. Chandra said.
Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said that the Democratic Party will also seek an injunction by the federal court "to ensure that the responsibility [on recording the form of identification] rests with the poll worker, not the voter."
"It's just another directive with an intention of confusing voters, in this case voters who are compelled to vote provisionally," Mr. Redfern said. "We believe it goes against the order issued by the federal court, and we believe it violates state law."
"[Mr. Husted] chose to wait literally until the 11th hour, the Friday before the election," Mr. Redfern said. "It's another step to disenfranchise voters. We'll respond, and we'll respond with overwhelming legal force."
Jon Stainbrook, Lucas County Republican Party chairman, said of the directive, there is "nothing new in there."
"Asking voters to sign a form and to write their name, address, and other information, which they know best, is hardly suppressing the vote. It's the best way to make sure their information is accurately recorded so their vote is counted, instead of risking a mistake made by a poll worker writing their information that might cause their vote not to be count," Mr. Stainbrook said.
"This is just a false Democrat scare tactic used as an attempt to rally their base, because they don't have the same enthusiasm that they had in 2008. This is part of the fabricated voter suppression mythology the Democrats are spinning this year. Secretary of State John Husted has gone above and beyond and bent over backwards to make sure that everyone can vote and that every vote will be counted."
Lucas County Democratic Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler called Mr. Husted's late-in-the-day directive "sneaky."
"We expect every bit of voter suppression available -- legitimate or not -- to be exercised," he said. "That's like waiting until mom and dad go to bed and then I sneak out of the house."
The Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. Roberta Redfern is a reporter for The Blade.