Sunday, October 12, 2008

Chicago Style Politics in Ohio

If Ohio polling looks like Chicago, 'thank' Brunner

"Well, I tell you what, it helps in Ohio that we've got Democrats in charge of the machines," Barack Obama said on Sept. 3.

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has a reputation as the most partisan state official in Ohio. And she works hard to earn it. The Democrat's latest stunt rejected absentee ballots for thousands of Republicans.

But it's not her first rodeo. Almost as soon as Brunner was elected in 2006, she tried to remove several Republican county elections officials, including Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert Bennett. They accused her of "storm trooper tactics" to silence critics.

Then Brunner spread an alarm that Ohio's electronic voting machines were vulnerable to tampering - a favorite claim of the paranoid left. Elections officials who participated in Brunner's study called her conclusions over-hyped "leaps in logic" and said, "The report itself could be viewed as an attack on the elections system ... (that) planted seeds in the mind of the public to mistrust those who oversee elections."

Brunner also demanded an overhaul of voting methods just before the March primaries, causing meltdowns in some precincts.

And now she's hassling Republicans who want to vote for John McCain.

Two Hamilton County voters have sued, accusing her of "the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters."

The John McCain campaign sent out more than 1 million applications for absentee ballots to Republicans. Each had a line at the top next to a box: "I am a qualified elector."

Brunner sent a memo telling county election officials to reject those applications for absentee ballots if the box was not checked. "Failure to check the box leaves both the applicant and the board of elections without verification that the applicant is a 'qualified elector'," she wrote.

But that's contrary to state law and Brunner doesn't have the authority, according to the lawsuit and an opinion from Hamilton County's Republican Prosecutor Joe Deters.

Ohio law allows voters to request an absentee ballot on the back of a grocery sack if they want to, as long as they include their name, address, date of birth, signature and either a driver's license number, last four Social Security numbers or a valid picture I.D.

There is nothing in the law about checking a box to verify a qualified voter. The voter's signature is enough, because that's what is checked to send ballots, said Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Greg Hartmann, who ran against Brunner in 2006 and is now county chairman for the McCain-Palin campaign. "It's just bald partisanship," he said. "She's trying to disqualify likely McCain voters."

The Deters opinion said "it is equally reasonable that the squares are intended simply as bullet points in an inartfully designed application."

Brunner said, "While state law does not require a check box, the McCain-Palin campaign designed its form to require that voters check a box to affirmatively state they are qualified electors."

Sen. Gary Cates, R-West Chester didn't buy it. "This is not a time to give people the appearance that voters are being suppressed," he said.

Majority Floor Leader Sen. Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond, said, "Take the politics out and you'd think the state's chief elections official would err on the side of allowing people to vote."

State law requires local officials to notify voters if their applications are rejected. That will cause confusion, especially for elderly absentee voters, Hartmann said. It's also costly and time consuming in an election year.

Since the Florida debacle in 2000, most states have made voting easier. Ohio now lets anyone get an absentee ballot. This year, Ohio could again decide a close election - and Brunner is inviting the kind of lawsuits and suspicions that destroy public trust.

She said Hamilton County "may face other lawsuits or even challenges to the rights of those whose applications they would process" if her memo is ignored.

Brunner's web site says she "wants to ensure that Ohio elections are free, fair, open and honest; and to encourage the highest level of participation in our democracy." So why reject 1,500 voters in Hamilton County and thousands more in Ohio?

An honest mistake? With Brunner's partisan record, not likely.

Laying litigation landmines to lawyer the outcome if Democrats don't win? That fits like a tinfoil hat with her irresponsible attack on Ohio's voting machines.

Raw partisanship? Ring the jackpot bell.

"Well, I tell you what, it helps in Ohio that we've got Democrats in charge of the machines," Barack Obama said on Sept. 3.

I think he was talking about Brunner - the partisan secretary of state who is doing her best to bring Chicago elections to Ohio.

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