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Husted Loses Again -- And Ohio's Voters Win

There's a certain Republican politician in the news lately who stubbornly refuses to acknowledge reality. He can't bring himself to admit just how many times he's been defeated in the courts.
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There's a certain Republican politician in the news lately who stubbornly refuses to acknowledge reality. He can't bring himself to admit just how many times he's been defeated in the courts.

Instead he attacks the judges who are presiding over his cases. He keeps spewing the same rhetoric that has been rejected by those judges again and again. And then, no surprise, he loses again.

No, I'm not talking about Donald Trump.

I'm talking about Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted -- and his streak of legal losses keeps getting longer.

Two weeks ago Judge Michael Watson -- a Bush appointee and former chief counsel to Governors Bob Taft and George Voinovich -- struck down the GOP-led legislature's attempt to roll back early voting as unconstitutional and a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Essentially from his first day on the job, Husted has been trying to cut early voting and eliminate "Golden Week," a week when Ohio voters can register and cast their ballots at the same time. According to a long-time Ohio political observer, Husted "despises Golden Week the way most kids despise cauliflower."

Keep in mind -- Husted is Ohio's top elections official.

Also worth noting -- Ohio's expansion of early voting and creation of Golden Week was a bipartisan response to the debacle of the 2004 election, "when massive lines at the polls, especially in minority- and student-heavy areas, kept an estimated 174,000 would-be voters from casting a ballot."

In an exhaustive analysis, Judge Watson concluded that African-American voters had used the opportunities of early in-person voting and Golden Week at a far greater rate (four and five times as often) as white voters. Watson found that by eliminating Golden Week, the legislature and Gov. John Kasich had imposed a disproportionate burden on African-American voters.

The judge also found that Husted and the state's legal team had failed to show any credible justification for this discriminatory burden. Voter fraud had not occurred. Costs were minimal. Many of the excuses made no logical sense.

Husted lost -- but Ohio's voters won.

What was Husted's reaction? Was it thoughtful circumspection? Concern that the state was engaging in clear discrimination, violating the Constitution? Unfortunately, no. It was the same as always.

Actually, that's the exact opposite of what the judge said -- and what judges have consistently said in prior Husted losses. Watson's order states that Ohio Republicans' amendments "reducing the early in-person voting period from thirty-five days before an election to the period beginning the day following the close of voter registration are unconstitutional."

As he always does after losing, Husted also pointed to other states that do not offer expanded early voting options as Ohio does. But in his decision, Judge Watson explained -- and as courts have explained again and again to the stubborn Husted -- that is not at all relevant.

If Ohio violates the constitutional rights of its own voters in the manner that it is changing a voting law, pointing to what other states may or may not do is absolutely irrelevant. It doesn't erase the constitutional violation by Ohio officials.

That's rich, given the fact that Husted was smacked down just a few months ago for attempting to change Ohio's election rules. In that instance, it was a bunch of 17-year-olds who defeated Husted in court.

But this statement fits into Husted's pattern of public disdain for judges that rule against him. Earlier this year he said a judge's order to keep the polls open set a "dangerous precedent." In 2012 he was ordered to appear in court personally because he refused to comply with a judicial order. He often complains that judges are not acceding to the will of Ohio's gerrymandered legislature.

The secretary of state does not seem to understand that the court -- and the judges he disdains -- are what matter here. Federal courts are in place to protect the constitutional rights of citizens whatever the elected officials might think. Indeed, it is the elected officials who are the ones violating those rights. That is the essence of our system of separation of powers. All the name calling in the world won't change that. Husted should actually respect the system our Founders created, particularly when he takes an oath to abide by that system. And more practically, because he's often in court weeks or months later in front of the same judges he's insulting. (He is in front of Judge Watson again this week, for example).

Husted's ineptitude would be amusing if this weren't such serious business.

Violating the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, repeatedly, is serious business. And voting rights are the most fundamental rights we have.

Ohio's reputation is serious business, and sadly, Ohio is cementing a reputation as a state all too eager to violate the rights of its own citizens. Just last week a report by Reuters found that in Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton counties alone at least 144,000 voters have been purged from the rolls, simply for not casting a ballot in one of the last three federal elections. Husted's response dripped with derision for Ohio voters. "If this is really important thing to you in your life, voting, you probably would have done so within a six-year period," he said. Not surprisingly, Husted is being sued for his voter purging practices, too.

The cost of these lawsuits, footed by the taxpayers, is also serious business. It's already in the millions. In any other realm but politics, Husted and his lawyer would no longer have a job after such a costly, self-inflicted losing streak.

But here we are.

This is my message to Kasich, Husted, Attorney General Mike DeWine and our Republican statehouse leaders -- please do Ohioans a favor before you waste one more tax dollar on legislation or litigation attacking voting rights.

First, remember 2004. The long lines. The national embarrassment. The questioning of Ohio's system of voting across the nation. Remember all that and then remember why Republicans and Democrats came together to expand early voting in the first place a decade ago. Good for all those who were part of those visionary changes.

Second, before saying another word or spending more money on appeals, I suggest you actually read Judge Watson's opinion. Read OFA v. Husted, which restored weekend hours for early voting. Read Schwerdtfeger v. Husted, which restored 17-year-olds' right to cast a ballot in the presidential primary. Read NEOCH v. Husted. Read them closely. Some of these judges were Democratic appointees. Others were Republican appointees.

But they all repeated the same simple principle as they struck down your efforts to restrict voting rights: even if you don't like that voting is now easier and more open in Ohio, you can't simply roll it back. If you roll back voting in an arbitrary or unequal manner, you are violating the Constitution. And when you do that, you are violating your own oaths to uphold the Constitution.

And I will add that when you do that, groups like the Ohio Democratic Party will again challenge you in court. You will lose. And all of the blame being tossed at judges, and all of the pointing at other states, won't change the outcome. It only makes you look foolish.

It makes you look like Donald Trump.

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