Late last week we revealed that Secretary of State Jon Husted was planning to speak at the True the Vote summit this weekend. Already in the news for restricting early voting hours in Ohio, Husted’s choice to speak at a summit promoting voter suppression techniques drew even more attention nationally. The pressure, and potential impact on his reelection campaign in 2014, caused Husted to cancel at the last minute.
While True the Vote claims to support “voter protection” their true goals are much more sinister: to disenfranchise Democratic – especially minority – voters. According to NBC News they are “part of a national movement to tighten regulations on early voting and voter registration and to require that voters show ID at the polls in the name of fighting voter fraud.” They also train “poll watchers”, who are primarily white, to show up at the polls in minority districts to intimidate voters.
Husted’s recent record on voting rights seems to jibe well with True to Vote. He recently removed all weekend and evening voting hours in Ohio – the hours preferred by African American and other Democratic voters. And recent comments by Doug Preisse made it clear that this policy is right in line with the goal of Ohio’s Republicans to target black voter turnout.
But we still thought it was a bit crazy for the sitting Secretary of State – the person responsible for fair elections in Ohio – to agree to a featured speaking slot at an event specifically designed to promote techniques for disenfranchising voters. The fact that he even considered it still boggles our minds!
According to the Nation, Husted’s last-minute replacement was State Senator Bill Seitz.
Seitz, who sits on the Board of Directors for ALEC, has held on to a safely-Republican seat in the Ohio House and now the State Senate for nearly a dozen years. So Seitz has nothing to lose by showing up and speaking at a voter suppression conference along side Ken Blackwell, Ohio’s former Secretary of State infamous for his own voter suppression tactics in 2004 that helped deliver Ohio to George W. Bush.
Husted is ultimately accountable to the voters. He’s up for reelection statewide in 2014. So he needs to be careful to avoid big mistakes like a photo of him hugging Ken Blackwell at a voter suppression summit.
But Seitz, like so many other legislators in Ohio, holds on to a seat without any real competition on voting day. Seitz can pretty much do whatever he wants until term limits kick in. And the most political pressure he is likely to face is from the extremists in his own party. Seitz, for example, bucked his party last year on the anti-Union Senate Bill 5 legislation, and it cost him leadership roles within the Senate.
In a noncompetitive district like Seitz’s, he’s got a guaranteed job unless he gets beat in a primary by someone with even more extreme views, or he is caught driving drunk with strippers in his car.
Which, not surprisingly, is exactly what happened to Bob Mecklenborg, the Republican State Rep who took over for Seitz when he left for the Senate.
Mecklenborg, himself a big proponent of Voter ID laws, resigned in disgrace from his House seat over the drunken stripper incident, and was replaced by another Republican with zero political or legislative experience – Louis Terhar – whose only qualifications appear to be the wedding vows he took to his wife, Debe Terhar, Ohio’s Tea Party School Board President.
Ohio’s Republicans love the current system. And every time they gain control, they attempt to change the rules – like removing voting hours favored by Democrats – to help them further game the system.
And while Husted will eventually be held accountable in a state wide election by all of Ohio’s voters (at least those who haven’t been turned away from the polls by voter-id laws, voter intimidation and limited voting hours), Seitz and the other Republicans who hold on to a majority of the state’s House and Senate seats, as well as a majority of the congressional districts, won’t have any of the same political pressure to do what is right.
While we fight for more access to the polls on weekends and evenings, and while we fight against groups like Truth the Vote and their voter intimidation tactics, it’s important to remember that one of the most important things we can do in Ohio right now is to change the way legislative and congressional districts are drawn to eliminate the entrenched political interests that got us into this mess to begin with. We can do that by supporting Voters First.