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Voter Suppression In Action in Florida, Ohio Over the Weekend

Gov. Rick Scott by Gage Skidmore/flickr

Polls predicting a narrow victory for President Obama in tomorrow’s Presidential election are only “skewed” in the sense that they don’t take into account the persistent attempts at voter suppression in key battleground states controlled by Republicans.

The Obama campaign’s strategy to bank early votes and get sporadic voters out to cast their ballot only works if you have states willing to accept their votes in a consistent way. But we mostly saw long lines in places like Ohio and Florida over the weekend, including total chaos at the latter, with some residents waiting hours to vote at the minimal polling locations.

Despite the demand, Governor Rick Scott refused to extend early voting hours in Florida. A brief effort to allow in-person absentee voting in Miami-Dade County ended with polls closing randomly and the cars of prospective voters being towed.

This was all by design. The Florida Legislature cut early voting hours in half this year, knowing full well that more Democrats took advantage of the privilege, and that shift workers more inclined to vote Democratic have a tougher time making it to the polls on a Tuesday, despite the clear legal imperative on employers to allow time off for voting. Florida will also have fewer polling places in 2012 than in 2008.

Early voting hours also shrink in Ohio, though legal battles forced them open a bit longer than the original plan. More important, Secretary of State Jon Husted, who’s been consistently trying to reduce the number of votes to count all year, just added a last-minute change to the provisional ballot that is clearly designed to trip up voters and invalidate their vote.

In an order to election officials on Friday night, Husted shifted the burden of correctly filling out a provisional ballot from the poll worker to the voter, specifically pertaining to the recording of a voter’s form of ID, which was previously the poll worker’s responsibility. Any provisional ballot with incorrect information will not be counted, Husted maintains. This seemingly innocuous change has the potential to impact the counting of thousands of votes in Ohio and could swing the election in this closely contested battleground.

“Our secretary of state has created a situation, here in Ohio, where he will invalidate thousands and thousands of people’s votes,” Brian Rothenberg, executive director of ProgessOhio, said during a press conference at the board of elections in Cuyahoga County yesterday in downtown Cleveland. Added State Senator Nina Turner: “‘SoS’ used to stand for ‘secretary of state.’ But under the leadership of Jon Husted, ‘SoS’ stands for ‘secretary of suppression.’?”

In 2008, 40,000 of the 207,000 provisional ballots cast in Ohio were rejected. The majority of the state’s provisional ballots were cast in Ohio’s five largest counties, which are strongly Democratic. Moreover, provisional ballots are more likely to be cast by poorer and more transient residents of the state, who are also less likely to vote Republican.

Remember that Husted already fought and at this point won a court order allowing Ohio to throw out “wrong polling place, wrong-precinct” provisional ballots, where voters cast their ballot at the wrong precinct, even in the case of poll worker error.

These are all very calculated efforts to limit votes before and on Election Day. The polls are close enough that a swing of a couple points can be chalked up to improper modeling of the electorate. Though voting rights activists have fought these suppression tactics hard, ultimately they cannot count the votes themselves. In Florida and Ohio, partisans are really doing everything possible to get votes counted their way.

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David Dayen

David Dayen