Ohio Democratic nominee for Congress Mary Jo Kilroy votes in Clintonville, Ohio. (Photo: Reuters)
The Ohio Republican Party has escalated its attacks on democracy on two key fronts.
It's trying to steal a hotly contested congressional seat. And it's moving to restrict voting rights for coming elections.
In the bitterly embattled House race in central Ohio's 15th Congressional District, Republican State Senator Steve Stivers has a slight lead over Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy.
Two years ago, Kilroy essentially defeated the previous incumbent, fourth-ranked House Republican Deborah Pryce. In an extremely tight race, a wide range of dubious voter eliminations and manipulated vote counts stole what appears to have been a clear victory from Kilroy. The GOP's infamous J. Kenneth Blackwell was still Ohio's Secretary of State. The Democrats declined to take him on, and the seat remained in Republican hands.
This year Ohio's Secretary of State is Democrat Jennifer Brunner. It would appear Kilroy has won again.
But the Republicans are on their usual anti-voter attack. With the help of Matt Damshroeder, Deputy Director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, the GOP has used a range of insider information to challenge about a thousand provisional ballots cast in heavily Democratic areas of the district. In particular they argue that a minor voter omission on the ballots should disqualify them. If they win that case, Stivers might well take the seat.
Brunner has gone to federal court asking that all the votes be counted. A decision from Judge Algernon Marbley was expected on Thursday.
Damshroeder's role reflects a classic Democratic indifference to election protection. Damshroeder is a past chair of the Franklin County GOP. He also served as the county chair for the 2004 Bush/Cheney campaign.
Prior to that election, while acting as Director of the Franklin County BOE, Damshroeder accepted a $10,000 check from a Diebold representative in his office at the BOE. The board was deciding at the time whether or not to buy Diebold machines.
Damshroeder asked that the check be made out to the Franklin County Republican Party. When the incident surfaced in the media, he apologized for the "impropriety." But the GOP kept the check. And Damshroeder was "punished" with one month's paid leave, even though Democrats could have had him removed.
Damshroeder is now Deputy BOE Director. His insider enabling role in the attempt to disenfranchise a thousand voters in his own district is problematic at best. The Ohio Democratic Party has finally issued a few angry e-blasts about it. But Brunner has the power to actually remove Damshroeder. Doing so would send a message the Dems are finally serious about election protection.
The Republicans are also trying to make it harder for the general public to vote in the next election. In the lame duck session after the theft of the 2004 election, the GOP-controlled Legislature passed an extremely restrictive bill aimed at disenfranchising thousands of Ohioans and making recounts of federal balloting virtually impossible.
But the GOP inadvertently included a provision that allowed new voters to register and cast a ballot on the same day. In 2008 the GOP sued Brunner to try to close that window. But Brunner prevailed in court, and tens of thousands of first-time voters came out to the polls in late September and the first week of October. By some news accounts these early voters backed Obama by margins as high as 12:1.
The embarrassed and angry Republicans have now vowed to rid the process of this pro-voter opening in the upcoming lame duck session of the Legislature. But if they do, it's likely the new governor, Democrat Ted Strickand, will veto the bill and sit on it. Next year the Democrats will control the Ohio House, and are unlikely to allow such a bill to go through.
By then, perhaps Matt Damshroeder will be out of a job, and Mary Jo Kilroy will be in Congress. But one thing is certain: the GOP attack on the right to vote is unlikely to have abated.
Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman have co-authored four books on election protection, including "How the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election" ... and "As Goes Ohio," available at www.freepress.org, where this article first appeared. Their radio shows are broadcast at WVKO-AM 1580, Air America in Columbus, Ohio.