In the aftermath of a presidential election marked by heated, partisan protests about voter fraud and suppression, Jon Husted has moved to bring greater clarity and precision to how complaints are handled. In a directive to local boards of elections, the secretary of state last week rightly placed emphasis on gathering facts, then specifically required a formal vote at the end of any meeting called to investigate voting irregularities.
In that way, local boards of elections would be on the record, voting on whether to forward each allegation to their county prosecutor or to conduct further investigations. Husted added in this directive that sworn statements must be limited to firsthand knowledge. All matters forwarded to the prosecutor’s office also must be sent to the local elections counsels assigned by the secretary of state’s office to each county.
As Husted correctly noted in recent remarks to local elections officials from across the state, “myths and rumors left unchallenged become conventional wisdom.” All of that risks an erosion of public confidence in the voting system — doubt and concern about the results. In Ohio, the job of getting past the charge and counter-charge of the election season appropriately rests with local officials, elections board members and local prosecutors, who are closest to the problems.
At the Statehouse, lawmakers continue to discuss potential bills to change the state’s elections laws. State Sen. Nina Turner, a Cleveland Democrat who is considering running against Husted in 2014, said recently that she will introduce legislation to protect ballot access, raising issues of voter suppression. Republicans share worries about fraud, at times pushing to require voters to present a photo ID. What actually is uncovered by local boards of elections should provide a solid, factual basis for the legislative debate.
Ohio avoided an Election Day meltdown in 2012, but problems remain. Husted’s directive underscores the need to make the necessary repairs based on careful investigation and evidence, not the hot rhetoric of partisans seeking to influence turnout. Now is the time to make the repairs, well before Election Day 2014 arrives.