Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted is assuring the country that voting is proceeding smoothly in the election’s single most pivotal state. In fact, the process has been marred by excessive lines at the polls amid a GOP-driven reduction in early voting hours, and by last-minute legal wrangling. And things could be about to get even worse.
Democrats say they’re concerned that the controversial reduction of early voting hours by a full seven days—passed into law by state Republicans and backed by Husted himself—is leading to decreased turnout. In Cuyahoga County, the state’s biggest Democratic stronghold, 42,511 voters had cast ballots as of Sunday, down from nearly 50,000 in 2008.
“As we expected, when you [reduce] the number of days people can cast a ballot, less people vote,” Jerid Kurtz, a spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, told msnbc.com.
With fewer days available to vote, Sunday saw excessive wait times at polling places in Democratic-leaning areas across the state. The Nation’s Ari Berman found “insanely long lines” in Cleveland, and photos suggested similar wait times in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Akron.
Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice, a voting-rights group, called those images "very disturbing." The lines, she told reporters on a conference call Monday, were "a clear legacy of the effort to restrict early voting this year."
Husted says he’s not worried. “It’s very easy to vote in this state,” he told msnbc’s Chris Jansing Monday. “We’re going to see record turnout we believe from the early vote in this election cycle.”
Another concern: A last-minute order issued by Husted Friday, requiring voters casting a provisional ballot to check a box stating what type of ID they used—even though state law directs poll workers to make that notation. The directive could lead to incorrectly filled-out ballots being discarded. Charging that Husted intended to “distract and confuse voters,” Ohio Democrats said the directive would “be met with overwhelming legal force.” Over 200,000 provisional ballots are expected to be cast.
That likely won’t be the only legal skirmish. The Obama campaign says it will have 2500 lawyers in Ohio—including 600 in Cuyahoga County alone—ready to challenge GOP efforts to disqualify voters or to prematurely shut down polling places with voters still in line.
“Every voting precinct will have a lawyer observing and be prepared to make those challenges,” Stuart Garson, the chair of the Cuyahoga County Democrats, told msnbc.com. “We have every reason to be concerned that they’re going to make it difficult for people when they’re voting.”
And as if all that weren’t enough, Husted has said provisional ballots—which numbered 200,000 in 2008—won’t start being counted until November 17, potentially delaying Ohio’s results if the election is very close.
But everything's on track, according to Husted. "Voting early has gone very smoothly in Ohio," he told Jansing. "There's no reason to think that tomorrow won't also go very smoothly."