Saturday, September 1, 2012

Victory in Ohio

If this year's presidential election comes down to a single state, that state would most likely be Ohio. Since the Republican takeover of the Ohio Secretary of State's office, the state has to be considered tougher to win for Obama, partly because the new Secretary of State has been making a concerted effort to restrict access to polling places, which would of course have a disparate impact on Democratic voters.

That means that if any court case is most likely to affect the November election, it would probably be the decision today by a Federal District Court in Ohio, provided it is affirmed on appeal. In that case, the court struck down the state's effort to restrict early voting the weekend before election day, a procedure that has proven highly successful in past elections in increasing voter turnout. The court held that it was unfair to allow members of the military to continue to take advantage of early voting, while denying that right to everyone else. (To be clear, the Obama campaign, the plaintiff is this suit, has nothing against helping members of the military to vote, It just wants to allow all voters in Ohio to continue to enjoy the same expanded hours they have enjoyed in the past.) Here is what the court said:
The burden on Ohio voters’ right to participate in the national and statewide election is great, as evidenced by the statistical analysis offered by Plaintiffs and not disputed by Defendants. Moreover, the State fails to articulate a precise, compelling interest in establishing the 6 p.m. Friday deadline as applied to non-UOCAVA voters and has failed to evidence any commitment to the “exception” it rhetorically extended to UOCAVA voters. Therefore, the State’s interests are insufficiently weighty to justify the injury to Plaintiffs. See Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780, 798 (1983).

The issue here is not the right to absentee voting, which, as the Supreme Court has already clarified, is not a “fundamental right.” McDonald v. Bd. of Election Commissioners, 394 U.S. 802, 807 (1969). The issue presented is the State’s redefinition of in-person early voting and the resultant restriction of the right of Ohio voters to cast their votes in person through the Monday before Election Day. This Court stresses that where the State has authorized in-person early voting through the Monday before Election Day for all voters, “the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another.” Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 104-05 (2000). Here, that is precisely what the State has done.
Note the last citation in this excerpt from the opinion. It would be a delicious irony if the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore, which effectively appointed George W. Bush to the presidency by preventing the state of Florida from proceeding with a recount, turned out to assist President Obama in winning re-election to a second term. That's why the court's reliance on Bush v. Gore might be somewhat provocative to the Supreme Court, which, if it decided to take up this case, might try to point out that even though Bush v. Gore established very strict standards for making voting procedures equal in all parts of a state, that decision has no precedential weight, because it was only intended to facilitate Bush's ascension to the presidency, and should therefore not be read to say what it actually says.

But if the case is affirmed by the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court nevertheless decides to duck it, then the courts will have given greater weight to the principle of equality, increased access to the polls for everyone, and smoothed the way to the president's re-election.


  1. As an Ohioan, I can say that if Obama doesn't win this state it will not be because of any messing around with early voting laws.

    If you ever look at how the elections turn out by county, you'll see that the Democrats almost entirely get their support from the big urban areas: Columbus, Cincinatti, and Cleveland. The boon for Democrats is almost always North East Ohio, because there's a lot of union industry up there.

    Everything else in between, which are largely if not exclusively rural counties, almost always go Republican.

    The reason I am mentioning this is the fact that big cities like Columbus--where I live--are actually really impressive at getting the vote out. I can guarantee you right this moment that there would be virtually no one getting screwed by changing early voting laws. There's a huge amount of community activism that goes on in this town.

    If Obama loses Ohio, it will be because Ohio voters turn on him. The general sentiment among a lot of Ohio voters is that they gave Obama a chance and he blew it. At the end of the day, they still may vote for him, but he's certainly no longer perceived as the saint he was in 2008.

    I personally know quite a few *former* Obama supporters. They voted for him because he was black and because they were afraid John McCain was too old or just an extension of the Bush years.

    And yes, they admitted that they voted for him because he was black. A good friend of mine, an African American, told me that he actually felt ashamed of himself because he voted for Obama purely because of his race. He said that his vote was wrongly cast, and that he'd not be voting for him again.

    I'm sorry Joe, but Obama was not the cure to all of our ills. The Republcans certainly aren't either, so my goal is not so much to dissuade people from voting Obama, but rather to get them to not vote for either party.

    1. Thanks for your firsthand analysis of Ohio voting patterns, Jack. I think you're right that the campaigns will do a good job of getting out the vote. But early voting will still make a difference for exactly the reason you identify. People are less enthused this year. That means that if somebody has to get up early or miss part of their workday to vote on Election Day, they will be less likely to do it. But if voting is open all weekend, and the campaigns are calling people incessantly to get out the vote, those voters will be more likely to succumb to all the nagging and get out and vote. There is no question early voting will increase voter turnout. The only question is whether that will affect the outcome.

      As for whether Obama is the cure to all our ills, I think you could search four years of posts on my website, and you would never find an example of me saying that. People are making a big mistake, and they are disrespecting the whole idea of our democracy, if they think that any one person is going to solve all of our problems for us, or if they think that anybody has all the answers. And the reason so many people are disillusioned is because they made the mistake of thinking that one guy was going to fix everything for us. No. We still have to fix our own problems, and we have no right to whine and complain that Barack Obama didn't turn out to be the messiah who could wave his magic wand and fix everything that is wrong.

      The reason I remain a big Obama supporter is not because Obama has such great ideas that they can cure everything wrong with our nation. It is because he had one great idea, which is that we need to work together in a more constructive way to solve our problems, instead of just trying to block everyone else from attempting to get their own way. And so far Obama hasn't made much headway in implementing his one great idea, I would argue because the opposition party decided to oppose everything he did even if he was suggesting something they used to be in favor of. But to his tremendous credit, the president hasn't given up on that idea.

      I think you could make the argument that the president's finest hour was during the period that most people think of as his biggest debacle, the debt ceiling negotiations. Because he set in motion a process that is going to require a bi-partisan agreement after the election. People are going to be surprised when that happens, but they shouldn't be, because the whole thing is now rigged such that no other outcome is acceptable for either side. And then there is at least a slight chance that our political system might function in a more effective way, and we will see a more productive and constructive attitude in Washington.