October 29, 2008 – The Ohio Republican Party launched a new statewide ad Tuesday claiming Democrats are trying to “steal the election in Ohio” by allowing hundreds of thousands of people to vote illegally, the latest effort by GOP operatives in the battleground state to challenge the eligibility of newly registered voters, many of who are expected to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.
“As Election Day approaches, consider this: could Ohio’s election be stolen?” a woman says in the 60-second spot. “Hundreds of thousands of new voter registrations are questionable. Many may be fraudulent. Yet [Ohio] Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is concealing the evidence.”
The ad, which is slated to run more than 20 times a day until Nov. 4, is part of an aggressive effort by Republican Party officials and GOP lawmakers in Ohio to purge at least 200,000 newly registered voters from the rolls. Republicans said the fact that some information on voter registration forms don’t square with information stored in government databases, such as drivers license and social security numbers, represents a clear-cut case of “election fraud.”
At issue is a federal law – the Help America Vote Act, which was passed when Republicans dominated Congress in 2002 – that requires states to verify the eligibility of voters.
The Ohio Republican Party filed a lawsuit last month against Brunner, a Democrat, claiming that voter registration information for hundreds of thousands of new voters did not match official government data, such as Social Security records and driver’s licenses. The Ohio Republican Party demanded Brunner turn over county-by-county lists of voters so they can challenge whether they are eligble to vote. But Brunner refused saying it would disenfranchise voters and turning over the lists weeks before the election would be impossible.
Voting advocates note that many mismatches can be irrelevant, such as the use of a middle name in one form but not another or a typographical error in a database.
Still, Republicans faulted Brunner for her “steadfast refusal to provide the HAVA ‘mismatch’ data to the county boards of elections in a meaningful way.” They accused Brunner of violating federal election laws by “actively working to conceal fraudulent activity.”
Brunner said the lawsuit was “politically motivated” and could result in disenfranchisement of voters because of “misstated technical information or glitches in databases. _
“Many of those discrepancies bear no relationship whatsoever to a voter’s eligibility to vote a regular, as opposed to a provisional, ballot,” Brunner said, adding that mismatches “may well be used at the county level unnecessarily to challenge fully qualified voters and severely disrupt the voting process.”
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ruling that had favored the Republicans. The high court said lawsuits “brought by a private litigant” could not be used to force states to abide by federal laws.
“Jennifer Brunner is not only defying federal law but she’s also making every effort to conceal fraud in this election,” said Ohio Republican Party Deputy Chairman Kevin DeWine. “We’ve heard from thousands of Ohioans and voters across the nation who are outraged by her dereliction of duty, and they want to know what they can do to make sure Ohio’s election isn’t stolen.”
That the Ohio Republican Party is questioning whether “Ohio’s election” could be stolen is remarkable considering that in 2004, Republican-controlled Ohio was one state where voters complained that their votes cast on electronic voting machines for Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, were recorded for George W. Bush.
Additionally, tens of thousands of voters were purged from voter registration rolls. Early exit polls showed Kerry leading Bush in Ohio, but Bush carried the state by 119,000 votes.
Last week, Bush weighed in on the voter dispute in the state. Last week, in an unprecedented move, Bush asked Attorney General Michael Mukasey to launch an investigation to determine whether the voters in question would need to verify the information on their registration forms or cast provisional ballots, which are often thrown out after the voter leaves the polling place.
Federal intervention – if ordered by Mukasey – could wreak havoc at polling places across Ohio, with Republican operatives using data on mismatches to challenge thousands of voters and causing long lines in Democratic strongholds.
Federal investigative guidelines also discourage election-related probes before ballots are cast because of the likelihood that the inquiries will become politicized and might influence the election outcomes.
“In most cases, voters should not be interviewed, or other voter-related investigation done, until after the election is over,” according to the Justice Department’s guidelines for election offenses.
Bush was acting on a letter he received from Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who said “unless action is taken by the [Justice] Department immediately, thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands of names whose information has not been verified through the [Help America Vote Act] procedures mandated by Congress will remain on the voter rolls during the Nov. 4 election.
“There is a significant risk if not a certainty, that unlawful votes will be cast and counted. Given the Election Day is less than two weeks away, immediate action by the Department is not only warranted, but also crucial.”
Sen. McCain also has elevated the issue of irregularities in registration forms, saying during the third presidential debate that the grassroots group ACORN “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”
Although McCain’s comment was largely hyperbole, it set the stage for widespread Republican challenges to new voters, what GOP critics say is just the latest chapter of a long history of Republican “voter suppression.”
Ohio’s 20 electoral votes could be crucial for McCain to achieve a comeback victory over his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, who is leading in Ohio by five to seven percentage points, according to most polls.
Republican success in disqualifying large numbers of new voters – while creating long lines in Democratic precincts – could tip Ohio into McCain’s column on Election Night.
The new Ohio GOP ad directs voters to the website fightohiofraud.com, where DeWine, the deputy chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, asks for donations to the group’s legal defense fund to “fight Jennifer Brunner’s efforts to steal the fraud in this election.”
The video begins with DeWine stating that the “effort to steal Ohio’s election continues.”
In the video, DeWine claims “people are registered to vote from fake addresses that would put them right in the middle of the Ohio River.”
Still, independent studies have shown that phony registrations rarely result in illegally cast ballots because there are so many other safeguards built into the system.
For instance, from October 2002 to September 2005, a total of 70 people were convicted for federal election related crimes, according to figures compiled by the New York Times last year. Only 18 of those were for ineligible voting.
In recent years, federal prosecutors reached similar conclusions despite pressure from the Bush administration to lodge “election fraud” charges against voter registration groups seen as bringing more Democratic voters into the democratic process.
Mark Crispin Miller, a professor at New York University, and one of country’s foremost experts on election integrity issues, said it’s all but certain that Ohio will “be the site of litigation by the GOP, so as to nullify a lot of Democratic votes.”
“At the moment there are actually no fewer than nine lawsuits, all of them brought by the Republicans,” Miller said.