Voting Newsletter: Early Voting Restored in Ohio, Fighting Voter Intimidation

October 23, 2012

Welcome to the Brennan Center's voting newsletter, the most comprehensive summary of all the latest developments affecting voting. Sign up for all Brennan Center newsletters here.


Latest Developments

Ohio Restores Weekend Early Voting

After a months-long legal battle, all Ohio voters will have the chance to vote during the three days before the election.

Ohio’s legislature last year changed the rules so only military and overseas voters could cast ballots in the three days before Nov. 6. The Obama campaign sued, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down the new provision.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the ruling by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R). After the Supreme Court’s ruling, Husted set uniform early voting hours for Ohio’s 88 counties. The decision is especially critical to Ohio’s minority voters, who are more likely to vote early, according to the Brennan Center’s Wendy Weiser. More than 100,000 votes were cast in the three days before Election Day in 2008.

Ohio joins a long list of states where the courts have weakened or blocked restrictive voting laws. Others include Florida, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin. “It's been a real remarkable string of victories,” Weiser told the Associated Press. “There is an overwhelming sense that the courts are skeptical of this push to restrict voting. They recognize the basic thrust of this effort is counter to democracy.”

For the latest on the status of restrictive voting measures, see the Brennan Center’s Election 2012 Voting Laws Roundup.

Coalition Battles Billboard Campaign

Voting rights advocates put up get-out-the-vote billboards in Ohio and Wisconsin to counter “an anonymously-financed billboard campaign aimed at intimidating voters and depressing voter turnout.”

Nearly 150 billboards popped up in black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Columbus in recent weeks, warning of prison time and steep fines for voter fraud. After complaints from voting rights advocates, Clear Channel Outdoor agreed to take down its billboards. Watch Lee Rowland discuss the story on MSNBC’s PoliticsNation.

The Election Protection coalition’s billboards urge citizens to “Stand Up and Have Your Say — VOTE.”

“We want voters to know that we have their backs,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “We expect the ballot bullies who are trying to scare folks away from the polls will step up their efforts as Election Day approaches; we’re determined to make sure people aren’t intimidated and that every eligible citizen can exercise their right to vote.”

If you have any questions before or on Election Day about voter registration, ID requirements, or other election procedures, call the coalition’s hotline, 1-866-OUR-VOTE or visit www.866ourvote.org.


State Updates

Arizona – The U.S. Supreme Court decided last week that it would rule on an Arizona requirement that voters must prove citizenship when registering by mail. Read more here. Meanwhile, Maricopa County (Phoenix) officials mistakenly put the wrong date on mailers sent to some Spanish-language voters.

Florida – Finally, some good news about voting from the Sunshine State. At the urging of the Brennan Center and other organizations, the Division of Elections ordered county supervisors to count all valid provisional ballots. The tabulation is especially important since Florida now requires voters who move from one county to another to cast provisional ballots. “If the ballot counting rules were not made crystal clear, this could create another Florida 2000-style debacle,” wrote the Center’s Lee Rowland.

Ohio – In another victory for voters, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that Ohio election officials must count all provisional ballots, even those cast in the wrong precinct due to poll-worker error. More than 10,000 of these ballots were thrown out in the 2008 election. “When citizens take responsibility to go to their polling places and vote, it is wrong to throw out their votes just because of poll worker errors,” said the Center’s Vishal Agraharkar. Read more here and here. Meanwhile, a northern Ohio county sent out voting instructions “with the wrong date for Election Day and an incorrect description of the polling place location.” Read an analysis of Ohio voting restrictions from Alec MacGillis at The New Republic.

Pennsylvania – With the state’s voter ID requirement on hold for this election, there is the potential for confusion because of “lingering” ads promoting the rule. One Pennsylvania newspaper printed an erroneous story telling voters a photo ID is required for the November election. The Brennan Center found an error on one Philadelphia government website, which incorrectly said an ID was needed to vote. The site was updated soon after we contacted the agency. The Center contacted other counties to fix problems as well.

South Carolina – The states’ voter ID law will not be in effect for the 2012 election, a federal court ruled. It will be in effect for future elections, but the court clarified aspects of the law so that it “does not require a photo ID to vote.” Read more here.

Texas – Attorney General Greg Abbott filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a key provision to safeguard minority voting rights.

Virginia – A man hired by Virginia’s Republican Party to register voters was arrested last week “after he was seen dumping eight registration forms into a dumpster.” Read more here.

And don’t forget our up-to-date online roundup of voting law changes in 2012.


New Data and Research

Voting: What Has Changed, What Hasn’t, & What Needs Improvement

A new report from Caltech/MIT examines “how voting technologies and election administration in the United States have changed—or have not changed—since the controversial 2000 presidential election,” and provides recommendations to improve election administration and technology. The report “notes gains in voting-machine technologies, but warns they could be cancelled out by errors introduced through mail and Internet voting.” Read more here.


Media Round-Up

  • Myrna Pérez spoke to ABC News/Univision for a story on voter intimidation and poll-watch groups. “We are concerned with non-professional, self-appointed poll watchers and the kind of environment that will be created when non-professionals are questioning the eligibility of other voters,” she said.
  • The Associated Press reported on poll watcher groups such as True the Vote, citing the Brennan Center’s recent study, Voter Challengers. Read more on the group from The American Prospect and the Houston Chronicle.
  • Last-minute changes in voting laws because of various court rulings could confuse voters and poll workers alike, Pérez told CNN. “It's a very real possibility that poll workers are going to be confused about the state of certain laws and that confusion could make it more difficult for eligible Americans to participate.”
  • The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer took an extensive look at “the voter-fraud myth” in a profile of the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky.
  • Both the GOP and the Democrats have platoons of lawyers at the ready for “nightmare election scenarios,” the Associated Press reported.
  • Nicole Austin-Hillery discussed how voter ID laws could affect the 2012 election on Al Jazeera English.
  • Some CEOs have been emailing employees urging them to vote for a particular candidate. Is it legal for the boss to speak out? For the most part, yes. “No federal election law specifically prevents employers from telling workers they could lose their jobs if they vote for a certain candidate,” CNBC reported. Watch Adam Skaggs discuss the story on Current TV’s The War Room with Jennifer Granholm.
  • Many universities are mounting their own voter registration drives to increase turnout among college students, according to The New York Times.
  • Florida and Virginia voters received deceptive phone calls claiming new laws allow voting by phone.

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