Just as Senate Bill 5, the assault by Ohio Republicans on public employees, lit a fire under the labor unions, the effort by the GOP to tamp down the vote in Ohio’s urban areas will become the rallying cry for blacks who will see it as a conspiracy against President Barack Obama.
Ohio Democrats have wasted little time in portraying the refusal by Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted to permit weekend voting as a cynical attempt to make it inconvenient for minorities to vote .
And, a comment from an Ohio Republican Party insider has served to bolster their argument.
Doug Preisse, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party and an adviser to Gov. John Kasich, told the Columbus Dispatch that elections officials should not “contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.”
The reaction was immediate and harsh.
“As Secretary Husted continues to eliminate non-work and weekend voting hours, which nearly half of the 535,000 Ohioans voting early utilized in 2008, Republicans are scrambling to roll-back top Kasich adviser Doug Preisse’s gaffe that shine light on what this debate is all about,” said Jerid Kurtz, a spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party. “Ohio Republican Party leadership and Kasich’s adviser need to wake up and remember we’re in the 21st century and that there’s never an appropriate time to talk about suppressing African-American voters. It’s way past time that Governor Kasich called on Secretary Husted and others in his party to end these voter suppression tactics.”
But Husted refused to budge last week, saying he has established uniform early in-person voting hours among Ohio’s 88 counties. He added that he is standing firm on his decision to eliminate weekend voting. Husted’s justification for this change from the 2008 presidential election is that some county boards of elections do not have the money to cover the cost of operating on Saturdays and Sundays.
That edict prompted the Mahoning County commissioners to approve a defiant resolution.
Commissioners Anthony Traficanti, John A. McNally IV and Carol Rimedio-Righetti, all Democrats, unanimously voted to open Oakhill Renaissance Place, which houses the board of elections, for weekend early voting.
“Voting needs to be made accessible to residents of Mahoning County,” including those employed out of town during the week, who return home on weekends, said Commissioner Rimedio-Righetti. She is a retired board of elections employee who has vast experience in the conduct of elections.
The resolution calls for the board offices to be open on the first three weekends in October, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturdays, and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.
But the director of the board of elections, Joyce Kale Pesta, a Democrat, replied that all employees and the four members of the board — two Democrats and two Republicans — serve at the pleasure of the secretary of state. And that since Husted has said there will be no weekend voting, the Mahoning County elections office’s hands are tied.
Why, then, would the commissioners push through a resolution that was dead-on-arrival? Politics.
Democrats not only in Ohio but around the country have been pounding away at Republicans who control governorships and state legislatures for erecting barriers to convenient voting.
Right to vote
The Democrats’ warning to minority voters, especially blacks, that their hard-fought right to vote is being undermined by Republicans who are pulling out all the stops to defeat Obama, the first black president in the history of this country, is striking a chord.
A similar chord was struck in 2011 when the unions, both public and private, along with the Democratic Party, launched an aggressive campaign to defeat Senate Bill 5 in a referendum. They warned public employees that the collective bargaining rights that had been in place for almost two decades would be taken away from them if the Republicans were successful.
There was a voter uprising that handed Gov. Kasich and his political cohorts in the General Assembly a major defeat at the polls.
Republicans now face a similar situation with their attempt to suppress the vote in urban areas.