Cuyahoga County lawmakers sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder bringing attention to certain recent comments from top state elected officials which could impact upcoming elections. In the letter the lawmakers said, “We want to make sure that every voter is allowed to participate and their vote counted. We believe Husted and Yost’s comments and actions raise questions and create controversy where none exists. We are concerned that these comments by state elected officials may have an adverse impact on voter confidence in the elections.”
State Sen. Turner and Reps. Antonio and Foley held a press conference at the Cuyahoga County Administration Building to respond to continued attempts to make voting more difficult in Cuyahoga County and across the state, by creating voter confusion, restricting voting opportunities and thwarting a possible House Bill 194 referendum.
“This latest incident is just another example of the toxic environment of voter suppression that has taken hold in Ohio. The fact that Secretary of State Husted – Ohio’s chief elections officer – would threaten to ban the processing of valid and legal absentee ballot applications is disturbing. Though he has since toned-down his comments, his previous statements – combined with those of Auditor Yost – have the potential to confuse voters, dissuade participation at the polls and give rise to the need for vigilance in upcoming elections,” said Sen. Turner. “We are simply taking action to ensure that the voting rights of Cuyahoga County’s citizens are protected.”
“The mailing of ballot applications is a cost-savings measure. According to Cuyahoga County Board of Elections member Sandy McNair, the county saved $1.2 million in 2010, by not having to purchase voting machines for the 368 precincts. The board was able to close these precincts due to the successful vote-by-mail initiative. Not only is this the right thing to do, it’s a model of efficient and effective government,” Sen. Turner continued.
“Encouraging voters to vote absentee in counties as large as Cuyahoga prevents long lines, confusion and chaos on Election Day,” said Rep. Foley. “It is clear through House Bill 194 and the recent actions of Ohio’s Republican Leadership that they will stop at nothing to remain in power even if that means disenfranchising voters and creating chaos and confusion around elections. This repeated claim of needing uniform procedures is deceitful. These policies will actually create huge disparities on Election Day.”
“I am proud of Cuyahoga County for raising the bar for every voter to access the ballot which should be a priority for all Ohio voters. Instead of devising new obstacles to voting, our statewide office holders need to pledge to stop these partisan games and assure voters that all votes are equal and will be counted,” Rep. Antonio said.
A copy of the full letter is below.
August 31, 2011
The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General of the United States
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Dear Attorney General Holder:
As members of the Ohio General Assembly representing Cuyahoga County, we wish to bring to your attention certain recent comments from top state elected officials which we believe could have an adverse impact on voter confidence in upcoming elections. As you may know, the Cuyahoga County Council voted on Monday, August 29, 2011, to expend county resources to send out applications for early voting this fall. As we understand it, we will be the only county to do so. House Bill 194, which passed this summer, prohibited county Boards of Elections from sending out applications to voters, but it made no reference to other governmental units such as County Commissioners or in our case, our County Executive and County Council. In Ohio, the general rule of thumb is that County Commissions and Councils have broad spending authority and that unless otherwise prohibited from some action, may engage in it.
The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections has sent out applications to voters since 2006, in a successful effort to diminish long lines at the polls and make it easier and more convenient for residents to vote. In 2010 approximately 47 percent of all Cuyahoga County ballots were cast before Election Day in conformance with existing state law. Our local efforts were so successful that the Board of Elections has been able to decrease the total number of precincts and voting sites by 26 percent since 2008, thereby saving board resources, while having a more organized and better trained staff for conducting elections.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Auditor of Ohio State David Yost have now made statements and demands which we think threaten to confuse and potentially dissuade voter turnout and participation. Secretary of State Husted at one point last week implied that absentee ballots requested in Cuyahoga County through the county’s early vote program might not be sent to voters. Thankfully, he has since retracted these statements. Auditor Yost has publicly demanded that the county account for spending on the program and specifically cite the authority for it being able to do so, even though it is fairly well-developed law that counties in Ohio have broad authority to spend money where they are not explicitly prohibited from doing so. Auditor Yost’s threats are irresponsible and imply that making Election Day less chaotic is somehow a crime.
We have two very contentious elections coming up in the next two years. In 2011, there is a statewide referendum election on Senate Bill 5, which is the attack on public sector collective bargaining in Ohio. In 2012, we have the Presidential election in which Ohio is always a battleground state. We want to make sure that every voter is allowed to participate and their vote counted. We believe Husted and Yost’s comments and actions raise questions and create controversy where none exists. We are concerned that these comments by state elected officials may have an adverse impact on voter confidence in the elections. While at this point we do not ask for any formal participation from the Department of Justice, we are concerned enough about these statements and their potential impacts to call them to your attention in the event that further statements or actions may necessitate a request for formal action.
The right to vote is one of the most precious in our democracy and it is imperative that this is not jeopardized in the state of Ohio. We stand ready to assist in any capacity deemed necessary.
Minority Leaeder of the House