A key cog in the concerted Republican attack on American voting rights has been stripped by a unanimous US Supreme Court.
In its on-going campaign to inject chaos and confusion into the voting process, the GOP has sued Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, demanding that she release to county boards of elections lists of registered voters whose information does not precisely match government data bases. The right to vote of such registrants---by most estimates as many as 200,000 in Ohio alone---could then be challenged on a case-by-case basis. George W. Bush was awarded Ohio's 20 electoral votes in 2004 with an official margin of less than 119,000 votes, though more than 100,000 votes cast in that election remain uncounted.
Brunner, a Democrat, has argued that the process of sorting through the minutiae of the registration discrepancies and forcing the use of provisional ballots would cause mass confusion, and would do nothing to legitimize the vote count. By all accounts, the discrepancies are usually caused by typographical errors in numbers entered for the Social Security administration and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Rarely do such discrepancies indicate fraudulent behavior or illegitimate registrations.
The decision terminates a twisted back-and-forth trail of contradictory lower court decisions.
The Supremes ruled that the Republicans "are not sufficiently likely to prevail" in their argument that such discrepancies pose a significant threat to the legitimacy of the electoral process. Though the decision is focused on Ohio, it may well have a major national impact. Throughout the US, the GOP has been working to strip voters from registration rolls and challenge voting rights predominantly in districts leaning toward the Democrats.
This decision will not put a stop to that. The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled, 4-3, that the Secretary of State must allow partisan challengers into voting stations where early voting is proceeding. Such challengers are often used to harass prospective voters and gum up the election process.
Elsewhere throughout the US, the Republicans have used caging and a wide range of other tactics to strip as many likely Democratic voters as possible from the voter rolls. More than 300,000 were disenfranchised in Ohio prior to the 2004 election. At least another 170,000 have been eliminated since, an overall total of roughly ten percent of the Ohio electorate. Nearly all those disenfranchised come from heavily Democratic urban areas. Similar disenfranchisements are being reported throughout the US.
In 2007 Brunner succeeded J. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio's Republican Secretary of State. Blackwell also served as co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign, and helped choreograph the theft of the Buckeye State electoral votes that tipped the election. Brunner has generally attempted to open the voting process in Ohio 2008, but has met with fierce resistance from the GOP, which still controls the Ohio legislature. Among other things, Brunner's attempt to provide paper ballots for all Ohio voters who want them has been reduced by GOP resistance to just 25% availability. The GOP also resisted early and open voting procedures that have allowed Ohioans to cast their ballots for several weeks now.
This new Supreme Court decision removes a significant morass of confusion and chaos from the voting process. Many of the myriad discrepancies among official data sources "bear no relationship whatsoever to a voter's eligibility to vote a regular, as opposed to a provisional ballot," Brunner explained. The mismatches "may well be used at the county level unnecessarily to challenge fully qualified voters and severely disrupt the voting process."
In 2000 the US Supreme Court overruled the Florida Supreme Court in a "one time only" decision that stopped a recount and put George W. Bush in the White House. This time around the Court has issued a pro-democracy decision that is likely to set precedent. It may well help guarantee a fuller and fairer electoral process this year, and for years to come.
Harvey Wasserman has co-authored, with Bob Fitrakis, four books on election protection, including AS GOES OHIO and HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008, available at www.freepress.org, where this article first appeared. His SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth, AD 2030, is at www.solartopia.org.