>By Reginald Fields, The Plain Dealer | Published: Tuesday, August 21, 2012, 10:00 PM Updated: Wednesday, August 22, 2012, 8:09 AM |Posted DLU August 22, 2012|11:12:04 AM|
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A top adviser to Ohio Gov. John Kasich has come under fire for a statement critics say was racist and aimed at suppressing the vote of African-Americans.
The comments from Doug Preisse, the Franklin County Republican chairman, were yet another salvo in the ongoing battle between Ohio Democrats and Republicans over early voting hours. Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted last week issued a directive that excludes weekend voting, which Democrats say was politically motivated.
Preisse told the Columbus Dispatch in a story published Sunday: “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter turnout machine.”
Democrats this week said singling out a specific race was inappropriate and called on Kasich and other state Republican leaders to publicly denounce Preisse’s comments.
Kasich, who is preparing to deliver a speech at next week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday declined The Plain Dealer’s request for an interview.
“It’s patently racist,” said Ohio Democratic Party chairman Chris Redfern. “I’m not suggesting that Doug Preisse as a person is racist. But what he said smacks of racism and bigotry. He’s not making a suggestion. He is flat out informing all of us that it is the strategy of the entire Ohio Republican Party to disenfranchise African-American voters.”
Cleveland Democratic state Sen. Nina Turner also called Preisse’s comments “flat-out racism.”
“I can’t say I am surprised. I truly believe this is a revelation of their true nature,” Turner said. “The fact that an African-American is now president of the United States has
caused some Republicans to lose their ever-loving minds and they can no longer contain themselves.”
Preisse, who is a member of the Franklin County Board of Elections, did not return several calls from The Plain Dealer.
He issued a written statement on Tuesday to the Huffington Post after his comments were picked up by the national media.
“If my comments, either in their original form, or as repeated in other ways, have caused anyone discomfort, I regret that,” Preisse said. He went on to say that he believes voting “should be easy, convenient, and un-intimidating for all voters.”
He also championed the early voting and absentee rules in Ohio and said he supports a directive Husted issued last week ordering uniform early voting hours. That directive is being challenged by Democrats in Montgomery County.
“To the extent that my comment caused any distraction from these responsible, responsive actions, I regret that, as well,” the statement read.
Matt Borges, executive director of the state Republican party, said Preisse thought his comments to the Dispatch were off the record. Still, Borges said Preisse is not a racist and that he was simply trying to convey that Republicans wanted a fair playing field when it comes to voting.
Extended evening and weekend early voting hours, which Democrats have raised a huge ruckus over, tend to favor Democrats.
“I’ve known Doug for 22 years now and he does not have a racist bone in his body,” Borges said. “I know he feels bad about the way the comment was misconstrued. I very much believe he was having what he thought may have been a conversation on background with a reporter talking about some of the political ramifications.”
Preisse’s original comments, however, may have already done damage.
“I think underneath his statement is that partisan attempt to really suppress any segment of the community that they feel is not going to vote in their favor,” said the Rev. Tony Minor, pastor at Cleveland’s Victory Baptist Church and head of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, a national group that works towards greater voting access.
Minor also said he was disappointed that Kasich, who has worked hard to bridge relationships in Ohio’s urban areas — especially in Cleveland — has remained silent on Preisse’s comments.
“That is something that we have to look at, that these are the attitudes of the people closest to the governor,” Minor said. “That is concerning.”
Two Democratic election officials in Ohio are putting their jobs on the line to keep weekend voting intact in their county. Tom Ritchie Sr. and Dennis Lieberman, members of the Montgomery County elections board, are currently being threatened with the loss of their jobs by Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State, John Husted.
On Monday’s The Rachel Maddow Show, Lieberman argued that voting to open the polls during the weekend before Election Day was well within the bounds of his authority. “It was my motion,” he said. “And the reason I made the motion is because we had already … decided that we were going to have early voting in Montgomery County on weekends as well as during the week. And it’s authority we have under the Ohio revised code, I believe, to make those decisions.”
Last week, Husted announced a new standardized early voting system for the entire state of Ohio: one which kept polls open until 7 PM on weekdays during the two weeks leading up to the election. However, his announcement said nothing regarding early voting on weekends, when initiatives like “Souls to the Polls” have managed to turn out Africans Americans to the polls in large numbers. Critics of attempts to restrict early voting in Ohio have argued that Republicans are trying to suppress the minority vote in order to benefit Romney and other Republican candidates.
“The Secretary of State knew that we had already voted in early voting in weekends and had been using it in Montgomery County in 2008,and had actually used it in the primary, the presidential primary, this year, just a couple months earlier,” said Lieberman. “So he knew we had it, and my thought was that if he knew we had it, and he didn’t address it, then we were free to fill in those blanks.”
However, Husted had other ideas. “We got a letter saying to rescind the motion or be fired,” said Lieberman. “And I refused to rescind the motion.”
As Maddow reported earlier in the episode, Obama took Montgomery County by 52 percent to McCain’s 46 in 2008. 28,000 of the voters in that county were early voters—and 52 percent of those voters were African American. A full third of early voters cast their ballots on the weekend.
Earlier this month I reported how Ohio Republicans were limiting early voting hours in Democratic counties, while expanding them on nights and weekends in Republican counties.
In response to the public outcry, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who intervened in favor of limiting early voting hours in Democratic counties, issued a statewide directive mandating uniform early voting hours in all eighty-eight Ohio counties. Husted kept early voting hours from 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays from October 2 to 19 and broadened hours from 8 am to 7 pm from October 22 to November 2. But he refused to expand early voting hours beyond 7 pm during the week, on weekends or three days prior to the election (which is being challenged in court by the Obama campaign)—when it is most convenient for many working Ohioans to vote. Rather than expanding early voting hours across the state, Husted limited them for everybody. Voter suppression for all!
Montgomery County, Ohio—which includes Dayton—is now at the center of the early voting fight. (Obama won Montgomery County by 6 percent in 2008). On two separate occasions,
December 28, 2011, and August 6, 2012, the four-member county board of elections unanimously approved expanded weekday and weekend early voting hours. But in a meeting on August 17, the two Republicans on the board reversed their position and opposed expanding early voting hours. With the committee deadlocked between Democratic and Republican members, Husted broke the tie in favor of the GOP, like he’s done in Cleveland, Columbus, Akron and Toledo.
Yet before breaking the tie, Husted ordered Democratic board members Tom Ritchie Sr. and Dennis Lieberman to hold a new meeting and rescind their votes in favor of early voting. When they refused, arguing that Husted’s directive did not apply to weekend voting, Husted suspended them from the county board of elections. (A third of the 28,000 in-person early voters in Montgomery County in 2008 voted on the weekend.)
“There’s no reason in the world for him to do what he’s doing to us other than to suppress the vote,” Ritchie, who’s served on the board of elections since 1995, told me. At a hearing in Columbus today, Husted’s office will decide whether Ritchie and Lieberman will be permanently suspended. “I fully expect that me and my fellow board member will be removed,” says Ritchie. (UPDATE: a ruling is expected later this week.) If that’s the case, Ritchie and Lieberman plan to appeal their suspension to the Ohio Supreme Court. (He also believes that Husted’s order that the board hold a second meeting on August 17 violated Ohio’s Sunshine Laws, which requires that a government body give twenty-four-hour notice to the media and general public in advance of a public meeting.)
Llyn McCoy, president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, says she was not consulted about Husted’s directive—despite his claim that he sought the input of local election officials before making his decision—and was “surprised” by the suspension of Ritchie and Lieberman. “I don’t see why Husted got into this ‘you voted, now you’re suspended’ kind of thing,” McCoy says. “The secretary of state was trying to send a message that he wasn’t going to tolerate any extended hours.”
Husted’s drastic action marks a dark day for democracy in Ohio. “Historically, the Montgomery County Board of Elections has been very well-run and is widely viewed as one of the best board of elections in the state,” says Ellis Jacobs, an attorney with the nonpartisan Miami Valley Voter Protection Coalition. “The board of elections planned ahead to maximize voters’ access to the polls and now they’re being punished by the secretary of state for doing their job so well.”
Why do Ohio Republicans suddenly feel so strongly about limiting early voting hours in Democratic counties? Franklin County (Columbus) GOP Chair Doug Preisse gave a surprisingly blunt answer to the Columbus Dispatch on Sunday: “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine.” Preisse is not some rogue operative but the chairman of the Republican Party in Ohio’s second-largest county and a close adviser to Ohio Governor John Kasich.
Like Pennsylvania House majority leader Mike Turzai, who said his state’s voter ID law “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” Preisse said publicly what many Republicans believe privately—keeping turnout down among Obama supporters is the best way for the GOP to win the 2012 election. That’s why, since the 2010 election, Republicans have devoted so much energy to voter-suppression efforts like limiting early voting hours, restricting voter registration drives, passing voter ID laws, disenfranchising ex-felons and purging the voter rolls.
Cutbacks to early voting disproportionately disenfranchise African-American voters in Ohio. African-Americans comprise 21 percent of the population in Franklin and Montgomery counties and 28 percent in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County but accounted for 31 percent, 52 percent and 56 percent of early voters in the respective counties in 2008. (Nearly half of early voting in Franklin County in 2008 did so on nights or weekends.)
Now it’ll be harder for voters across Ohio, particularly in the most populous, heavily Democratic cities, to find a convenient time to vote before Election Day in order to avoid the long lines that plagued the state in 2004 and may have cost John Kerry the election. “In the hours and days now eliminated by legislative and Sec. of State restrictions, an estimated 197,000 Early In-Person votes were cast, constituting about 3.4% of all votes cast statewide in 2008,” according to a new report by Norman Robbins, research director for Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates. “This is very significant in Ohio where major elections have often been decided by a 2% margin of victory.”
Republicans were for reforms like early voting until Democrats started using them. “It just so happened that  was the first time that early voting had been used in large numbers to mobilize African American and Latino voters,” Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the Huffington Post. A federal court ruled on Thursday that early voting cutbacks in Florida—where blacks outnumbered whites by two to one among early voters in 2008—violated the Voting Rights Act. As Doug Preisse admitted on Sunday, Republicans are doing everything in their power to make sure 2012 isn’t a repeat of 2008.
You can find more of The Nation’s coverage of voting rights at our blog, Voting Rights Watch 2012.
>By Luke Johnson | The Huffington Post | Posted: 08/19/2012 3:54 pm Updated: 08/20/2012 8:25 pm|
An Ohio GOP election official who voted against the weekend voting rules that enabled thousands to cast ballots in the 2008 election said Sunday that he did not think that the state’s early voting procedures should accommodate African-Americans.
“I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine,” Doug Priesse said in an email to the Columbus Dispatch Sunday. “Let’s be fair and reasonable.”
Priesse is a member of the board of elections for Franklin County, which includes Columbus, and chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, on Wednesday ordered all 88 counties in Ohio to allow early voting Monday through Friday, until 7 p.m., during the final two weeks before the election. Weekend voting, however, will not be allowed.
Weekend voting helped 93,000 Ohioans cast ballots in the final three days before the 2008 election. Black churches promoted taking “your souls to the polls” events on the Sunday preceding the election, an option that will be unavailable if Husted’s ruling stands. (The Obama administration has sued Husted to restore the final three days of early voting.)
Early voters in 2008 in Cuyahoga and Franklin counties were disproportionately African-American. A study by Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates found blacks accounted for 56 percent of all in-person early votes in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, while they accounted for 26 percent of votes overall. In Franklin County, African-Americans cast 31 percent of early votes and 21 percent of votes overall.
UPDATE: Priesse expressed regret for his comments Monday. “My comments in the Sunday, August 19th Columbus Dispatch have been misconstrued, and in some cases misquoted entirely,” Priesse told HuffPost in a statement. “However, if my comments, either in their original form, or as repeated in other ways, have caused anyone discomfort, I regret that.”