In what Rick Hasen calls "the most important decision in this election cycle" and "a major victory for voters' rights," a federal court has ruled (pdf) that Ohio must count ballots that are cast in the right polling place but at the wrong precinct simply because a clerk sent the voter to the wrong place. In 2008, Ohio threw out many thousands of provisional ballots cast as a result of that kind of mistake.
"I can't expect 40,000 people who do this job only once or maybe twice a year to be perfect," Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted told the Cincinnati Enquirer this summer. And yet Husted appealed part of an earlier decision requiring Ohio to count the votes*, just as he has continued to appeal court rulings allowing for early voting on the final weekend and Monday before the election. Less than a month from the election, the rules for voting in Ohio remain unclear.
Husted's argument for continuing the fight against expanded early voting is that he does not want to end up with different amounts of voting in different counties. "The last thing I want to see is a non-uniform system where voters will be treated differently in all 88 counties," he said, though he voted to allow more early voting in Republican counties and less in Democratic ones.
Apparently you can cover a lot of ground by saying you insist on uniformity. Earlier this week...
lefty Ohio blog Plunderbund wrote that Husted had quietly forbidden elections workers from calling or emailing voters whose absentee ballots contained mistakes. Unless those mistakes are corrected, the ballots could be thrown out. Husted's order makes it harder to get those mistakes fixed, and thus more likely the ballots won't count.
Today the Cleveland Plain Dealer picked up the story, with an explanation from Husted's office:
"We don't necessarily have an email address or a phone number for every voter," [spokesman Matt] McClellan added. "This goes back to uniformity around the state."
One more thing on Husted's plate: Democratic-leaning Lucas County, which includes Toledo, has again deadlocked over a plan to offer expanded early voting. The tie-breaking vote belongs to the secretary of state.
*UPDATE: Husted had specifically appealed the part of the decision requiring that provisional ballots come with a voter's printed name and signature. The court today reversed most of that part of the ruling, and also ordered more review based on a challenge from advocates for the homeless. That leaves the issue still alive. The state of Ohio, as a separate intervenor, appealed the order to count votes cast in the wrong precinct.