By Allison Handler
Jennifer Brunner was elected in 2006 and served a term as Ohio’s first female Secretary of State. During that time, she oversaw the contentious 2008 presidential election and implemented voting practices that allowed a record turnout of voters to cast their ballots. In 2010, she ran in the primary election for the United States Senate. She currently practices law in Columbus and is the author of a new book, “Cupcakes and Courage”.
Ohio is facing several voting-related challenges this election cycle, from early voting to provisional ballot disputes. What are some other election practices that worry you?
Jon Husted recently issued a directive that if someone fills in the wrong information on an absentee ballot, the only way the voter can be reached regarding the mistake is through a letter in the mail. Even if the voter gets notice of the mistake in time to correct it before the election, they can only make the correction by filling out a specific form.
The priority instead should be to make sure everyone’s vote counts. What if there is a mistake then made on the form? Of course it is important to get the correct information. But there are so many pitfalls to correcting mistakes by mail with tight deadlines. And now the only way to notify voters of mistakes is by mail, so there will likely be many mistakes that may not be corrected and may prevent votes from being counted. Husted would have been better doing nothing than issuing that directive.
It will be interesting to see how this affects the numbers and turnout.
1.7 million people voted absentee in 2008. As of October 1, 2012, Husted has said 920,000 absentee ballot applications have been received. It will interesting to see, whether by mailing out absentee ballot applications, he will have done anything to increase the numbers and percentages of absentee voters in 2012. I think it won’t be as high a turnout, and I would be surprised if early and absentee voting surpasses what happened in 2008.
Both Jon Husted and Ken Blackwell appeared at the True the Vote summit in Ohio over the summer. What do you think the role of the secretary of state’s office is in protecting against possible voter intimidation by such groups?
I believe in an open and transparent system that ensures that people who are eligible to vote have the ability to vote. True the Vote has been referred to as “Skew the Vote.” My sense is that a group like that is not working to make sure every voter is not impeded, but instead works to make sure that every person they find suspicious is questioned. [As Secretary of State] I did everything I could—whether through media or declarations of condemnation or asking the Attorney General to step in—to provide access to the franchise. It is very important to be attentive to election requirements that prevent voter intimidation or suppression. It is easy for Secretary Husted to say his office does not have a role, and that the responsibility falls to other election groups. I am more concerned about how the many so-called minor changes in election directives could have a ripple effect across a very large population of voters.
Which changes are most concerning to you?
For example, in Franklin County, the early voting location is at a closed mall that takes 40 min to get to from downtown Columbus by bus. So people will spend an hour on the bus just to vote early. That is a result of Husted changing the directive that was in place during my tenure which said that early voting should be conducted in public buildings. As Secretary of State, I required that if election officials did not have a suitable public building, they needed to seek direct approval from the Secretary of State’s Office for using non-public buildings as voting places. That directive has been completely eliminated.
When all these small changes occur, when many different election protections and directives are changed in tandem, they build on each other. Taken en masse, these small changes have a dangerous impact.