Last Wednesday August 15th, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted issued a directive requiring specific rules and operating hours for county boards of elections. Specifically, the directive eliminated early voting on weekends, and barred all boards of elections from being open on Columbus Day. The directive further raised questions about postage being paid for on absentee ballot envelopes. Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) and Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio) released this statement in response:
"The actions of the Ohio secretary of state appear to have the effect of suppressing the right to vote of Ohio voters," said Conyers. "The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has already determined that Florida's early voting changes would adversely impact minority voting rights in that state. In a 119 page ruling, the Court found that the "dramatic reduction in the form of voting that is disproportionately used by African-Americans would make it materially more difficult for some minority voters to cast a ballot.' If you compare Florida's and Ohio's early voting changes, it seems that the directive in Ohio may have a similarly racially discriminatory impact.
"It's troubling that by eliminating weekend voting hours, the state of Ohio specifically barred a popular voting time of choice for minorities," said Fudge. "In Cuyahoga County, which I represent, 56% of weekend voters in 2008 were African American while adult African Americans comprise 28% of the county population. Moreover, Ohio is diverse, with counties that are large and small, rural and urban. Local boards of elections are best able to determine the needs of the electorate. A one size-fits-all approach imposed by the state fails our citizens and the interests of justice.
"This past Wednesday, August 22nd, The New York Times reported that the chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party in Columbus, a member of the county's election board, stated that, "I guess I really actually feel we shouldn't contort the voting process to accommodate the urban -- read African-American -- voter-turnout machine.' Statements of this nature are very troubling and raise a host of legal and constitutional concerns," said Conyers.
"The recent actions and statements of Secretary Husted and other Ohio officials warrant an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act," said Fudge. "Section 2 prohibits election and voting related practices or procedures that are intended to be racially discriminatory, as well as those that are shown to have a racially discriminatory impact. The recent actions taken by Ohio's secretary of state should be investigated because of the grave risk to minority voters of being disenfranchised, something that would violate Section 2.
"After the 2004 presidential elections, I organized hearings in Washington and in Columbus, Ohio (participants in this forum included Jerry Nadler, a senior Member of the Judiciary Committee) that highlighted a variety of state actions that served to suppress the vote in Ohio, particularly votes cast by minorities," said Conyers. "In response, I released a report entitled What Went Wrong In Ohio. It appears that Congress must, again, investigate Ohio's trend of disenfranchising, and work tirelessly to protect voters from the unfair impact to voting that the state of Ohio has endorsed."