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County Executive Tackles Voting Rights

James W. Wade III | 3/21/2014, 9:37 a.m.
County Executive Fights For Voting Rights
County Executive Ed Fitzgerald

County Executive FitzGerald takes on voting rights

By JAMES W. WADE III

Staff Reporter

Have you notice that every time an election comes around, voting becomes an issue with the Ohio Attorney General Jon Husted? Even during the last election, that involved voting for President Barack Obama, he attempted to eliminate early voting.

Republicans have painted a picture that has not been favorable in the Black community. Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed the bills to help suppress the efforts of the voters. The bills’ impact on turnout, especially among minorities, could be significant.

In 2012, 59,000 Ohioans voted during the Golden Week, which is now being eliminated. Studies show that Blacks are far more likely than Whites to use early voting and same-day registration. 1.3 million Ohioans cast absentee ballots, after Husted mailed them to every registered voter. Under the new bill, he’d be barred from doing so without approval from lawmakers. Counties can no longer mail absentee ballots on their own, as many urban counties have done in the past.

Ohio is not taking this laying down. Rep. Alicia Reece has been fighting against this for awhile now. But even right in Cuyahoga County, there has been a battle brewing between Husted and Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald.

FitzGerald took on Husted in the last election and, through his efforts, got Husted to change his mind about absentee ballots. Well, this year, FitzGerald is at it again.

FitzGerald introduced the Cuyahoga County Voting Rights Law last Tuesday after the Ohio General Assembly and Kasich enacted three bills to curtail absentee, early, and provisional voting. Husted has also issued a directive limiting early voting in the 2014 general election.

“I believe we have to fight against these actions and make sure what they are doing will not be of no success,” said FitzGerald. In a phone interview, he told The Call and Post that Cuyahoga County had 78 percent Blacks who voted early in the last election and he knows exactly who Husted and Kasich are attacking.

FitzGerald shared the importance of passing the Cuyahoga County Voting Rights Law legislation so Cuyahoga County is able to exercise its home rule authority to mail absentee ballot applications to registered voters.

“Ohio is a much needed state and it blocking the access to early voting will continue to hurt the Black church,” said Bishop Tony Minor. Minor remembers the soul to the polls where the Baptist churches as they would use vans to take their members to the polls on various Sundays during elections.

“When it’s been tough to vote, that affected places like Cuyahoga County and Columbus and Cincinnati in particular.” FitzGerald said his county’s legal director will investigate whether Cuyahoga has any recourse.

The bills passed in party-line votes and are set to take effect in 90 days after the May 6 primary election, but before this fall’s election. Early voting currently starts 35 days before an election. It will start 29 days before an election under the new law, after the voter registration period ends.

FitzGerald shared how he didn’t like the elimination of Golden Week.

“One of the bills Gov. Kasich signed eliminates the “Golden Week,” a six-day period where people can register to vote and vote on the same day. The other prohibits county election boards from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications and paying return postage on these,” said FitzGerald.

FitzGerald talked about why he is making this effort to stop what Husted is doing.

“Many will say I am only doing this because I am running for governor of Ohio. But honestly, I would do this if I was not running.”

Kasich signed another bill that allows ballots to be thrown out due to minor errors and the Democrats are fighting this because it violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The mere fact that more Blacks vote absentee than Whites could also set up a discrimination suit.