The games people play, to borrow a line from an old pop hit by the Spinners, aptly describes what Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted is doing to win one for his team in a pivotal election year. The Republican officeholder is playing games with how and when Ohioans vote, as well as what they read on their ballots.
So far, Mr. Husted's schemes to discard ballots cast incorrectly, deny the same access to polls as we had in the previous presidential election, and distort ballot language to ensure defeat of an issue he opposes have not played well in court.
He's been rebuked for unfair, unconstitutional, and uncertain action in his role as the state's chief election officer.
He doesn't care. He knows that what he's done to affect election outcomes is of little or no concern to most Ohioans.
After the latest legal admonition about poor wording he approved for a statewide redistricting ballot amendment, Mr. Husted thumbed his nose at the Ohio Supreme Court. When the high court said the ballot language of Issue 2 had "the effect of being misleading," he switched misleading for a mash of perplexing verbiage.
His juvenile "I'll show you" response to rewording the ballot summary was telling. Instead of reconvening the Ohio Ballot Board, which he heads, to replace ballot wording that the Republican-leaning court deemed inaccurate, prejudicial, and "fatal to the validity of the ballot," Mr. Husted reverted to political form.
Instead of welcoming outside testimony on fixing a defective summary of the redistricting amendment, the ballot board accepted none, deleted a few words, slapped on verbatim sections of the amendment's full text, and called it a day.
Instead of concise and understandable ballot language to assure, as the court said, "a free, intelligent, and informed vote by the average citizen affected," the revised ballot mocked the edict by being deliberately long and complex.
It's loaded with legalese only a lawyer could love. Mr. Husted is playing games with a statewide issue that is immensely important to restoring representative government in competitive, compact, fairly drawn districts.
His partisan tactics are about winning and thwarting any chance that the redistricting measure will pass. Like proponents of redistricting reform, he is keenly aware that the average citizen won't plow through pages of technical paragraphs before voting on the statewide proposal.
"The new [ballot] language is more confusing the than the old language," lamented Sandy Theis, spokesman for the Voters First coalition that supports the measure. "History shows us that when voters are confused, they tend to vote no," she wrote in an email.
That's even more true for "low information" voters, whose only knowledge about the amendment that would change the way Ohio draws legislative and congressional districts will come from what they see on the ballot. An arguably biased opening line on the wordy amendment --"Remove the authority of elected representatives and grant new authority to appointed officials" -- might be all some voters need to disapprove.
Mr. Husted insists he's just accommodating the court, following the letter of the law, and dispatching with pre-election noise that's sure to be forgotten post-election. "No one will remember about the political hyperbole that occurred, that we've gone through the last couple weeks," he told reporters after his ballot board opted for convoluted over comprehensive on redistricting.
We won't forget. Not the calculated moves to diminish polling hours or discount ballots. Certainly not the Husted gamesmanship to discourage comprehension and passage of Issue 2.
The latter is an egregious act of partisan self-interest with decade-long ramifications. Last year, Ohio Republicans, who control the legislature and statewide offices, redrew district lines to favor politicians, lobbyists, and big donors.
Political boundaries were gerrymandered in the extreme to ensure safe seats for one-party domination. "The congressional seat [the reconfigured 9th District] that extends from Lucas County to Cuyahoga County is an insult to every person who lives in that snake across the lake," Ms. Theis said.
It should also be motivation enough to let an independent citizens committee, not political power brokers and strategists, put responsive representation on the map again in Ohio. The games Mr. Husted plays with our vote, and with our increasingly polarized communities, is rigged against us.
He puts politics over people. But we're on to him. Game over.
Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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