Promote the vote

10/16/2012

Ohio’s secretary of state and attorney general have lost another round in their battle to disfranchise some voters. They should stop wasting taxpayer money on an effort that leaves them vulnerable to the charge that they are trying to gain partisan advantage for Republican candidates in this fall’s election.

Last week, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower-court ruling that said provisional ballots cast by voters at the right polling place, but at the wrong precinct table because of incorrect instructions from poll workers, should not automatically be thrown out. Pitching the ballots, the three-judge panel said, “unjustifiably burdens these voters’ fundamental right to vote.”

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Four years ago, 14,000 wrong-precinct ballots were needlessly discarded in Ohio. The court ruling would count most such ballots.

At the same time, the federal appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision to count provisional ballots with misplaced or missing printed names or signatures. The provisional ballot’s “rather simple” instructions, the judges said, are not the responsibility of poll workers.

The right-polling-place, wrong-precinct ruling thwarts for the moment the effort by state Attorney General Mike DeWine and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to limit access to the polls in the guise of alleged fairness. But it’s not their only attempt to suppress the vote.

Mr. Husted has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn an earlier 6th Circuit decision upholding a lower-court ruling that prevented the state elections chief from cutting off early voting for most Ohioans on the three days before Election Day. The court ruling would restore the status quo that has existed since 2008, when more than 93,000 (mostly Democratic) Ohio voters cast their ballots on the final weekend of early voting.

These voter-suppression efforts in Ohio fit a national pattern. Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee have reduced early voting. Six states, including Ohio, have passed laws aimed at making voter registration more difficult.

Several states have new laws that require voters to show photo identification. Florida officials endangered the right to vote of thousands of state residents — mostly Hispanic Americans — in what they called an effort to prevent large numbers of noncitizens from voting.

In all, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, 13 states have passed laws or enacted executive decisions that could restrict this year’s vote. In almost all cases, elderly, poor, low-income, student, and minority voters — who often vote Democratic— will be affected most.

Election experts believe that this year’s presidential race will be won or lost in Ohio. Restricting ballot access does not prevent fraud or make the election fairer. But it will make legal action inevitable if the vote, as seems likely, is close.

Americans do not want another presidential election decided by the courts instead of by their votes. Mr. Husted and Mr. DeWine should end the legal wrangling and instead work to help voters in performing this fundamental right.