Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has emerged lately as a bete noir for voting-rights advocates. Husted, a Republican, at first tried to allow extended voting hours for GOP-leaning counties but not for Democratic ones—before backing down under pressure and declaring there would be no early extended voting for anyone. He's now appealing a judge's ruling requiring him to reverse course.
But for one extreme voter suppression group, Husted isn't going far enough. It's teaming up with a controversial former Bush administration Justice Department official to try to force Husted to do even more to make it harder to vote.
In late August, True the Vote, a Tea Party-affiliated group that aims to root out voter fraud by placing poll watchers at polling places around the country, sued Husted in federal court in Ohio (pdf), charging that he's failed to maintain accurate voter registration lists as required by law. Essentially, True the Vote—along with Judicial Watch, a prominent Washington-based conservative activist group which it partnered with on the lawsuit—wants a judge to force Husted to conduct a purge of the rolls. A controversial purge conducted in Florida could disenfranchise more than 35,000 eligible voters, voting-rights advocates estimate.
According to the complaint, True the Vote "trains volunteers to review voter lists" in order to identify those it believes to be illegitimate. "Because the State of Ohio has failed to satisfy its voter list maintenance obligations, the voter lists that True the Vote obtained from the State of Ohio are inaccurate and out of date, making it more difficult for True the Vote to use these lists in furtherance of its mission," the complaint adds.
Christian Adams, a former Bush Justice Department official who has emerged as a key advocate of voting restrictions, is listed in the lawsuit as "of counsel."
The involvement of True the Vote, Judicial Watch, and Adams in pushing for a purge of the Ohio voter rolls underlines how the GOP push to make voting harder is a national effort that's receiving support from conservative movement leaders.
Husted's office has not filed a response to the lawsuit. In March, in response to a letter from Judicial Watch, Husted's chief legal counsel wrote that Husted and his colleagues "share your concerns about the accuracy of our voting lists." And this month a spokesman for Husted told the AP that he has removed more than 19,000 deceased voters and hundreds of thousands of duplicates in the 20 months since he took office.
As recently as late August, True the Vote and Husted appeared to be friendly. The Secretary of State was scheduled to appear as a featured speaker at the the group's Ohio summit August 25 but pulled out at the last minute, after True the Vote became the target of a barrage of negative publicity. Less than a week later, True the Vote joined Judicial Watch in suing Husted in an effort to force him to purge the rolls.
True the Vote has a record of using intimidating tactics at disproportionately minority polling places. In 2010, the group reportedly flooded predominantly African-American polling places with poll-watchers, mostly older, white, and male. “So many voters and election workers complained about the aggressive tactics and general atmosphere of intimidation at those sites that the US Justice Department said it would send in federal observers,” Rachel Maddow explained last month (see video above). Maddow added that one leader of the group told a national summit that the effect of installing so many poll-watchers at polling places was intended to be “like driving and seeing the police following you.”
A lengthy New York Times report published online Sunday evening delves deeper into True the Vote's activities.
Adams, who has a history of conservative activism, was hired into a career position at the Justice Department under a politicized process. In the waning days of the Bush administration, Adams filed a controversial DoJ lawsuit against the "New Black Panther Party," alleging voter intimidation in relation to an Election Day 2008 incident in which two members of the group were filmed brandishing nightsticks at a Philadelphia polling place. Adams claimed that the Obama administration failed to file charges out of an unwillingness to alienate a political ally. In fact, the Bush Justice Department first declined to file charges in the case, and under Obama, DoJ obtained an injunction against the stick-wielder. Adams currently is a lawyer at the Election Law Center, which supports efforts to restrict voting and describes itself on its website as "more red than the ivory tower." He is the author of the 2011 book, Injustice: Exposing the Racial agenda of the Obama Justrice Department.