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Ohio's voter suppression effort: 'Unfair and impermissible'

Just three days before the election, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted tried to change the voting rules.
Photo: AP/The Repository/Scott Heckel
Photo: AP/The Repository/Scott Heckel

Just three days before the election, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted tried to change the voting rules. “The first thought that came to mind was, democracy dies in the dark,” said Judge Algenon L. Marbley about Husted's order.

Husted had ordered poll counters to discount provisional ballots filled out incorrectly after directing voters (rather than poll workers, as is Ohio tradition) to fill out provisional ballots. His demand flouted a court order that instructed him to do exactly the opposite. “It’s changing the rules in the last quarter of the game,”  says Jennifer Farmer, a spokesman from the Advancement Project, a bipartisan organization that provided counsel to the coalition of groups that sued to fight the provisional ballot directive.

Yesterday, Marbley joined the list of judges who have rebuffed Husted's efforts to regulate voting, calling his actions “fundamentally unfair and constitutionally impermissible.” Marbley directed the state to count the ballots cast in good faith, even if there are errors in the form.

Husted's balloting battle has gone on for several months. In September, a judge ordered Husted to appear personally in court to explain his resistance to a ruling restoring early voting the weekend before the polls opened. The Supreme Court declined to hear Husted's appeal of that ruling.

Marbley's harshly-worded ruling won't affect the election outcome; President Obama won by a large margin in the Electoral College. But voter's rights advocates say the precedent is a dangerous one.  "This gets down to whether or not all people are able to participate in the most fundamental part of our democracy," Farmer said. There's also a demographic matter at play. "Typically, the people who are filling out provisional ballots tend to be people of color in urban areas," she adds.

“He is the secretary of suppression,” state senator Nina Turner said on Jansing & Co. on Monday. “He tried to suppress every single vote in this state.”