No one who knows U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus (this writer has supported him since he first sought public office decades ago) would question his motives when he recently ruled against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican. But because Economus, a Democrat, was appointed to the federal bench by former President Bill Clinton, also a Democrat, his ruling in an important voting-rights case may be dismissed as pure partisan politics. It isn’t.
The judge has never been a Democratic Party insider. Indeed, when he first ran for the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, he took on the party establishment led by the late chairman, Don L. Hanni Jr.
Nonetheless, Republicans will attempt to denigrate his finding against Ohio’s chief elections officer by couching it in partisan political terms.
That’s why another ruling against Husted in another case having to do with the Nov. 6 general election is so critical. It was issued by the Republican dominated Ohio Supreme Court and was an undeniable legal smack down of the secretary of state.
But before delving into the High Court’s decision, let’s review what Economus, who is on senior status after having retired from the federal bench in Youngstown, did.
Right to vote
He ruled that all Ohioans have a right to vote in person on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day, thus voiding a law passed by the Republican controlled General Assembly void. The GOP had changed the early-voting provision that had applied to all Ohioans to only permit active military members to vote in person on those three days.
The judge cited the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore (the ruling gave Republican George W. Bush the presidency over Democrat Al Gore) in framing his decision. The Republican appointees on the Supreme Court delivered the presidency to Bush.
He ordered Husted to instruct the boards of elections to make preparations for early voting on the three days, but the secretary of state told them not to do anything because his lawyer, Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, was filing an appeal with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Economus was not amused, and ordered Husted to appear before him to explain why his order had been ignored. A contrite elections chief reversed himself, thus avoding a dressing down in federal court.
Nonetheless, Republicans in state government aren’t giving up without a fight. An appeal has been filed.
But, the GOP cannot ignore the reality that Economus’ ruling isn’t the only one that slows the Republican plan — it is being pushed in other states as well — to make voting in the Nov. 6 general election difficult for a particular segment of the population — mostly individuals who would be supporting the Democratic ticket.
Another federal judge, Algenon L. Marbley, ruled against the state’s decision to toss out provisional ballots cast by qualified voters in a situation commonly referred to as “right church, wrong pew.” In locations where voters in multiple precincts cast ballots at one central location, elections officials will commonly refer to voters to the wrong line. Four years ago, Ohio rejected 14,000 provisional ballots because they were cast in the wrong precinct due to poll worker error.
Again, the Republicans are appealing Judge Marbley’s ruling.
But it’s the opinion rendered by the Republican dominated Supreme Court that must have caused Husted and his colleagues heartburn.
In ordering the Ohio Ballot Board, chaired by the secretary of state, to come up with new language for State Issue 2 that will appear on the general election ballot, the court said the summary that had been developed by the board contains “material omissions and factual inaccuracies,” according to the Plain Dealer.
State Issue 2 would change the way congressional and legislative districts in Ohio are created.
The ballot board that developed the language for Issue 2 is made up of three Republicans and two Democrats, who objected to the wording.
The board must now come up with language that meets the Supreme Court’s standard.
The ruling was a crushing blow for the Republicans because it exposed their venality in dealing with election-related issues.