A top Ohio Republican Sunday stood by his comment that the state's voting procedures shouldn't be "contort[ed] to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine."
In an interview with BuzzFeed, Franklin County GOP Chairman Doug Preisse, a close ally of Governor John Kasich, said his comment — which provoked Democratic outrage — was simply straight talk.
Democrats "are trying to say that I had somehow consciously constrained hours for that purpose," Preisse said. "No, I am saying the opposite, that I am asking the question, and I am indeed questioning how far this process of democratic, small ‘d’, democratic voting process should be contorted to favor a political operation. I don’t think we should go overboard in doing that."
Preisse's comment to today's Columbus Dispatch were taken as a smoking gun by Democrats and progressives, who said — as one liberal Ohio blogger wrote — that Preisse had acknowledged an effort to "suppress black voters."
Preisse scoffed at the criticism, telling BuzzFeed of a disputed voting plan put forth by Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, "I believe it should be easy to vote, and I believe that under this plan it is.
"I believe that Republicans and Democrats of good will can have a difference of opinion, an honest difference of opinion here, but I also believe that there is no question that the forces of Obama and the other side of the aisle would love to just throw the barn doors open and have 24-hour voting and just go too far in the other direction," Preisse said. "It seems to me we can have a reasonable discussion about this."
Of Democrats' early voting efforts, he said, "How far should the taxpayers be asked to go to accommodate that political operation? That’s where we’re having a difference of opinion."
Preisse's comments were unusual because they pointed directly to a rarely-mentioned reality in high-minded discussions about voting rights and voter fraud: raw political advantage. The Ohioan's blunt remarks point to the calculus behind rule-making in intensely partisan states like Ohio: Getting your voters — but not the other sides' voters — out to vote.
Saying that the actions he and other Republicans have taken in the state to limit weekend early voting from what it had been in the 2008 election are “clearly” not an effort to “retard voting rights and privileges,” Preisse said, “We have many options and many ways” that Ohioans can vote, “and early voting is one of them.”
Asked specifically about his quote regarding the "urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine," Preisse said, "I said I believe that there’s a line of how far that taxpayers should have to go to match a specific political operation, and that’s what I mean.”
The Ohio Democratic Party chairman, Chris Redfern, signaled that the party will make Preisse's comments a rallying cry this fall.
"Doug Preisse is carrying his friend John Kasich's water. Doug Preisse cannot walk back his racially charged comments directed at African-American Ohioans because it is what he believes," he told BuzzFeed.
Regarding a directive from Husted issued this past week to set uniform hours for early in-person voting across the state, hours that did not include any weekend hours, Preisse said, "I was glad to see the Secretary of State make uniform the hours; I was not comfortable with hours that were not uniform across the state.” Noting that there are some evening hours included, he added, “I feel like that was a move in the right direction. How much farther should we go? Well, I’m comfortable with where we are."
Redfern countered, "Kasich and Preisse know we have an extraordinary ground operation this year and the GOP wil do anything, including ignoring state law to undermine the will of voters. If early voting in Ohio is permitted to occur according to state law, more voters will turn out — something Preisse does not want to see."
Preisse said that the Democrats' turnout efforts would be successful under Husted's plan for the elections in Ohio, independent of the weekend early voting issue, saying, "They’re going to have a successful voter turnout ... that’s what they do, that’s what they’re supposed to do, and they’re good at it."
He added: "It has been noted, too, that there are some places where they don’t have early voting at all. Compared to those places, it’s much easier to vote [in Ohio]."
Democrats, nonetheless, are not settling on Husted's rules, with a hearing set for Monday morning for the removal of two county elections board officials in Montgomery County who voted to allow for weekend early voting in spite of Husted's order.
Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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