Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner told the Huffington Post on Thursday that she is ready not only to fight the state's current election law battle in front of the Supreme Court, but is also willing to wage a new fight, if necessary, to make sure hundreds of thousands of new voters are not "forced" onto provisional ballots on election day.
Spurred by revelations that the community organizing group ACORN has submitted many thousands of ineligible voter registration cards in battleground states, Ohio Republicans have been calling for a wholesale comparison of the state's nearly 666,000 new active voters against data collected by the local DMV.
Brunner charged that Republican demands are meant to create confusion at the polls and keep all the ballots from being counted.
Brunner says that, according to the League of Women Voters, there were only four instances of "illegal voting," or the actual casting of an illegitimate ballot, between 2002 and 2006 -- when just under 8 million ballots were cast. As such, she said, ACORN's registration problems are being improperly lumped in with the casting of bad ballots, something she says is not likely to occur no matter how many fraudulent registrations are turned in. "Unfortunately, despite the messaging of certain political parties ... when they bring ACORN into it, they're talking about false voter registration. Seldom does that lead to illegal voting. Mickey Mouse and Jive Turkey don't vote."
Brunner revealed this week that state data for approximately 200,000 of the new voters shows at least one discrepancy out of nearly two dozen categories that can be compared between the Secretary of State's office and the DMV.
(Indeed, even Ohio's Joe 'The Plumber' Wurzelbacher appears on voter registration rolls with a slight name misspelling, and thus would be subject to what a representative of the Brennan Center for Justice calls "disenfranchisement by typo.")
Though both Brunner and her Republican opponents concede that many of these 200,000 "flags" could be due to administrative error, the state GOP nevertheless wants her to provide the state's 88 separate boards of election with their respective shares of the flagged voters. On Tuesday, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Ohio Republicans, and gave Brunner until Friday, October 17 to draw up the various lists.
On Wednesday night, Brunner appealed the 6th Circuit's decision to the Supreme Court, which she said is now awaiting a response brief from her Republican opponents. "The best information I have is that it's likely the Republican party would be given a deadline to file a brief today," Brunner said. "And then we'll see what the court does. We have been attempting to comply with a federal judge's order. But the action was brought so late."
Currently, many observers feel that if the 6th circuit decision stands, it will mean that those 200,000 Ohioans with flagged data will have to undergo what's known as "provisional balloting." Thursday afternoon on MSNBC, Pete Williams reported: "These mismatches don't mean that voters can't vote. ... They will still let you vote, but your ballot would be set aside and not counted on election day, and then they have to go back and make sure it was legally cast, and then they would count it."
The New York Times reported Wednesday that "once the local officials have the names, they may require these voters to cast provisional ballots rather than regular ones, and they may ask partisan poll workers to challenge these voters on Election Day."
But Brunner says she won't order a process of provisional balloting unless she is forced to do so, preferring instead that these individuals vote normally like everyone else. "I find nothing in HAVA [the Help America Vote Act] that says if there's a mismatch on this limited data that that's enough to push a voter onto a provisional ballot," she told the Huffington Post. "A court would have to order me to do that. ... And I'd fight it all the way back up [to the Supreme Court]."
"The [circuit] court said the Secretary of State has to provide information to the Boards of Election on which names [have] discrepancies," Brunner said, adding that the federal judge admitted he could not order the Boards of Election to use provisional balloting for those voters.
So would the individual boards make the call as to whether or not to use provisional ballots on a site-by-site basis?
Brunner asserted it would be her decision. "It would be the Secretary of State that could order the boards to do that," she said. Asked if she intended to do any such thing, she said, simply, "no."
"If we have to follow the [circuit] court's order, we will do everything we have to do to resolve those discrepancies by contacting voters," Brunner said, suggesting this is the extent of the impact of the 6th circuit's decision. As for whether or not her office is drawing up the lists for the 88 different election boards, Brunner replied: "We're gonna wait and see what the Supreme Court orders us to do."
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By taking this position, Brunner appears ready to force another showdown with Republicans in Ohio. She believes that the present court challenge is, in fact, simply a prelude to making tens of thousands of new voters undergo provisional balloting, which she claims will cause havoc on election day.
"Most of the polling places ... have four polling workers," Brunner said. "We've had our boards of elections provide diagrams of how they're going to actually arrange their polling places. ... Most diagrams show one poll worker handling provisional voting. So if we drastically increase the number of provisional voters, that's going to create some congestion and some backup and extend the lines in polling places. This process, under Ohio law, requires both the voter and the polling place worker to fill out a fairly lengthy form. If the voter has any questions, the worker has to give them a provisional ballot notice about the hotline to find out if their vote is counted."
Brunner said Ohio Republicans were seeking that kind of chaos. "The added confusion and problems that this creates -- the plaintiffs understand that. They also understand these ballots are not counted on election night. And that they'll be able to litigate and fight over individual ballots for a 10-day period after the election to tamp down the number of ballots that will actually be counted. This isn't democracy," Brunner said.
The secretary also expressed some muted displeasure with ACORN for helping cause alarm over potential voter fraud due to the apparent registration fraud in its ranks. "I think non-profit organizations like ACORN are specifically fighting the fight for middle to low income people," she said. "In carrying out that kind of responsibility, they need to do it in such a way [so that] low income people won't be further ostracized by the community. I think they have to do a better job, yes. From a pure election law standpoint, [this all] makes a lot of unnecessary work."
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