Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities
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- Leave it to the Lower Courts: On Judicial Intervention in Election Administration, 68 Ohio State Law Journal 1065 (2007)
- The New Vote Denial: Where Election Reform Meets the Voting Rights Act, 57 South Carolina Law Review 689 (2006)
- Early Returns on Election Reform: Discretion, Disenfranchisement, and the Help America Vote Act, 73 George Washington Law Review 1206 (2005)
Monday, March 19
Ohio SOS Asks for Cuyahoga Board's Resignations
Ohio's new Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has asked for the resignations of all four members of the Board of Elections in Cuyahoga County, the state's largest county which includes Cleveland. The Columbus Dispatch has this report and Secretary of State Brunner has issued this press release. This follows the conviction of two Cuyahoga County election officials in January, and the resignation of its embattled director of elections Michael Vu in February.
Those being asked to resign, according to Secretary Brunner's press release, are:
- Board Chair Robert Bennett, a Republican - term ending February 28, 2010
- Edward Coaxum, Jr., a Democrat - term ending February 28, 2010
- Sally Florkiewicz, a Republican - term ending February 28, 2008
- Loree Soggs, a Democrat - term ending February 28, 2008
The reasons given for the resignation requests include the "maximum 18-month prison sentences being handed down to two Cuyahoga County election workers last week for their roles in the 2004 Presidential recount, the tremendous problems that surfaced in the May 2006 primary that delayed even the unofficial vote count for 5 days, and the uncertain future of this board as another Presidential election looms on the near horizon."
What will happen if the board members don't resign? Ohio law (ORC 3501.16) allows the Secretary of State to remove board members for good and sufficient cause:
The secretary of state may summarily remove or suspend any member of a board of elections, or the director, deputy director, or any other employee of the board, for neglect of duty, malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance in office, for any willful violation of Title XXXV  of the Revised Code, or for any other good and sufficient cause. Except as otherwise provided in section 3501.161 [3501.16.1] of the Revised Code, vacancies in the office of chairperson, director, or deputy director shall be filled in the same manner as original selections are made, from persons belonging to the same political party as that to which the outgoing officer belonged. If those vacancies cannot be filled in that manner, they shall be filled by the secretary of state.Cuyahoga County's election system has undoubtedly had more than its share of problems, as documented in two lengthy reports -- available here and here -- issued after last year's primary election. Nevertheless, if the board's members refuse to resign and Brunner follows through by firing them, that decision is likely to provoke controversy. In 2005, former Secretary of State Ken Blackwell forced the resignations of members of the Board of Elections of Lucas County (Toledo area), as reported here and here. Blackwell was criticized in some quarters for forcing their ouster.
It's not clear that the members of Cuyahoga County's board will go so quietly. According to this post on the Cleveland Plain-Dealer's Politics Blog, the two Democrats on the board originally said that they'd step down but now "appear unwilling to do so" while the two Republicans plan to fight Brunner, who is a Democrat. One of the Republican members, Chair Bob Bennett, also happens to be Chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. According to the Plain-Dealer's blog, Bennett suggested to Brunner that he intends to litigate.
This could get very interesting. That's not only because it affects the conduct of elections in the largest county in what is likely to be a pivotal state in 2008. It's also because it raises critical institutional questions about election administration, including the role played by bipartisan boards of election and by chief election officials elected on a partisan basis. In the long run, such institutional issues -- including how election officials are selected and how they can be removed -- are among the most important facing our election sytem.