The last two weeks have been interesting. Covid 19 cases continue to increase and the second Republican Speaker of the Ohio House in succession has been caught in a corruption scandal. Yes, these two circumstances do have a relationship.
Covid 19. The short version is that Covid 19 is not going to magically disappear overnight. I continue to read that an effective vaccine will be available, if everything falls perfectly, around the end of this year. An effective vaccine is unlikely to be generally available before the November 3 election. On the other hand, the politicization of the pandemic means that we will see actions, like opening schools for in-person instruction, which will allow the virus to spread more widely. It is impossible to predict what conditions will be by November 3, but it is likely they will not be good. That seems to be what Republicans want, apparently thinking their best chance to retain power after the November election is to turn the election into chaos.
Householder. In case you somehow missed it, Republican Speaker of the Ohio House Larry Householder was arrested last week, with others, on federal racketeering charges. The central allegation, which seems very credible, is that Householder received about $ 61 million, much of it going into his dark money PAC, to ensure passage of the bailout for two old nuclear power plants on Lake Erie (and a coal-fired plant in Indiana). Householder has, so far, declined to resign the Speakership and the Republican House majority has, so far, shown no inclination to replace him. Consequently, one house of the Ohio General Assembly is unable to do its business.
It is important to remember that Householder’s PAC gave several hundred thousand dollars to Jean Schmidt’s primary campaign for Ohio House District 65, which Schmidt narrowly won. Schmidt must have established her credentials in Householder’s eyes during her time in Congress. Remember that the U.S. House Ethics Committee found that Schmidt, while in Congress, improperly accepted $ 500,000 from the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund. Schmidt was ordered to pay the money back. She only repaid a small fraction. Her defense at the time was that she didn’t know about the improper funds. Householder obviously appreciates someone who knows to turn a blind eye when big dollars are coming in. Whether it is trump in Washington, Householder in Columbus, or Pat Manger in Batavia, Republicans know that “government service” offers opportunities for personal gain, and they know not to let such opportunities slip by.
The Relationship. The relationship between Householder’s arrest and Covid 19 comes from the fact that our General Assembly is paralyzed less than 100 days from a crucial election that will be conducted in the face of unprecedented challenges. One example illustrates the problem. In emergency legislation passed in March to address the pandemic, Ohio Boards of Elections were required to put a drop box outside their offices into which people could return their voted absentee ballots. Other states, like Georgia, Kentucky, and Wisconsin, used multiple ballot drop boxes successfully in their primary elections this year. Drop boxes eliminate the health risk of trying to vote in person and eliminate the risk that your absentee ballot will be lost or delayed in the mail. (I heard from a BOE member in Sandusky County that they received delivery in early July of a batch of absentee primary ballots which had all been postmarked before April 28). The risks from returning an absentee ballot by mail are becoming more acute as the USPS runs out of money to operate and trump opposes giving USPS the funds it needs to deliver the mail.
So, it would be wise to have more drop boxes in November, right? Not so fast. Last week Republican Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose asked Republican Ohio Attorney General David Yost to issue a formal opinion that, absent new legislation from the General Assembly, Ohio BOEs are not allowed to use for the November election even the one drop box per county used in the primary, much less multiple drop boxes located around the county. The likelihood is high that Yost will render the requested opinion. While the chances were never good that the General Assembly would do anything to make it easier and safer for Ohioans to vote during the pandemic, with its Speaker now out on bail, there is zero chance that the Ohio House will pass legislation to authorize ballot drop boxes.
Action. There should not be any doubt that Republicans want a chaotic election in November with low turnout. To avoid that result, we need to do several things. First, we need to tell everyone to request their absentee ballot now. Those ballots will be mailed out in early October. People need to understand that they must vote their ballot and send it back immediately after they receive the ballot. Letting the ballot sit in the hall until a week or ten days before November 3 greatly increases the risk that ballot will not be delivered to the BOE in time to be counted. Encourage people to hand deliver their voted ballots to the BOE at 76 South Riverside Drive, Batavia, but remember that Ohio law says only the voter, or an immediate family member may return a voted ballot to the BOE by hand.
Second, we need poll workers for November 3. Unless something changes dramatically, there will be in-person voting at polling places. Many of our long-time poll workers are older and, reasonably, will conclude that the risks from being in close contact with strangers, many of whom will not be wearing masks, for thirteen straight hours are unacceptable. A shortage of poll workers will cause lines and disruption at polling places. That will deter people from voting and risks increasing errors that may keep ballots from being counted. We need younger people to work the polls this November.
McConnell and trump have both said publicly that Republicans lose if every voter votes. Republicans know that they are exceptionally vulnerable this year and need to suppress the vote. Making vote by mail fail and creating chaos at the polls is part of voter suppression. We can defeat this strategy, but we must act now.
Stay safe. Vote early.