Husted's posters going up in polling places, but does it matter?

Oct 26, 2014

Alright, it’s settled now.

The two voter information posters from Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted – a candidate for re-election – which display his name prominently featured will be posted in Ohio’s polling places.

The question is this: Will it make one whit of difference in the race between Republican Husted and Democrat Nina Turner for the secretary of state’s job? Husted leads Turner by a large margin in the independent polling that is out there; and, according to the campaign finance reports that came out Thursday, the Republican incumbent has $2.2 million left to spend while Turner, a state senator from Cleveland, has a paltry $70,000 left.

Nonetheless, a lot of Ohio Democrats aren’t very happy about the signs; they believe they are a form of subtle electioneering by a candidate who also happens to be the chief elections officer of the state.

One of the signs is a relatively small 11 by 17 inch poster encouraging voting that shows the work of a fifth grade student who won a statewide poster contest sponsored by the secretary of state .

The other is a rather large, two foot by three foot poster with information on making sure voters’ IDs are updated with their current addresses.

Both feature the name of Husted, whose spokesman, Matthew McClellan, told WVXU, the secretary of state’s name is there “to ensure that constituents know that this information is accurate; it is official and there is no fraudulent information in there anywhere.”

Democrats aren’t buying it.

Earlier this month, Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke objected to the large poster and fired off an e-mail to Husted asking if the board was required to put up the poster. The answer from Husted’s office was, in effect, “yes, you are.”

Then, Burke, who is chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, and Democratic Party executive director Caleb Faux, the other Democrat on the board of elections, made a motion at a board meeting saying Hamilton County would not post the smaller poster, the one with the child’s drawing, because it contained Husted’s name.

The two Republicans on the board, county party chairman Alex Triantafilou and Chip Gerhardt, voted against the motion.

That meant the motion went to Husted, who, as secretary of state, breaks tie votes.

Husted sent back a response last Wednesday that showed more than a little irritation with the Democrats.

“As has occurred in 87 other counties, it was my hope that the adults charged with administering elections in Hamilton County could come to a reasonable outcome as to how to share this young man’s work with voters, but seeing as no such agreement could be reached, and as I continue to believe in this program and its goals, I break the tie in favor of displaying the poster,’’ Husted wrote.

So that settled that.

Burke fell on his sword and the poster will be displayed, but not without a few choice words for Husted.

“The fact that we have not been required to display during the first three years of the Husted regime but are ordered to do so now that he is on the ballot in a hotly contested election speaks for itself,’’ Burke said.

“But Husted has the power to order us to display both posters and we must obey,’’ Burke said. “But this is a classic abuse of power exercised in Husted’s own self-interest.”

Triantafilou more or less yawned over the whole poster affair.

“Much ado about nothing,’’ the GOP chairman said.

People going into polling places probably don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the posters that are on display.

“They get their ballots; they vote; and then they leave,’’ Triantafilou said.

But “Postergate” has gotten attention here and nationally mainly because Husted is seen by Democrats – particularly African-American Democrats – as the villain in the on-going legal battle over early voting in Ohio.

Husted was among the defendants in the lawsuit filed earlier this year by the NAACP, the ACLU and others challenging the law passed by the Republican majority in the legislature cutting Ohio’s early voting period from 35 days to 28 days. And Husted put out an early in-person voting scheduled that scaled back the number of weekend days and later hours that people could come into their local boards of elections.

The plaintiffs were winning in the lower federal courts, But on Sept. 29, the day before the 35-day early voting period was to begin, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state’s plea to block a lower court ruling expanding the number of days and hours for early voting.

Ever since that ruling, Turner and the Ohio Democratic Party have been hammering at Husted as the man who wants to make it harder for Ohioans to vote.

But Husted argues that 28 days of early voting is more than the vast majority of states have; and that his office has done everything it can to make it easy for Ohioans to vote early – including sending absentee ballot applications to about 6 million Ohio voters this year.

The question is, why would Husted need to tout his candidacy on posters in the polling places?

Husted has plenty of money to get his message out. And in a Columbus Dispatch poll which came out last month, Husted held a 14 percentage point lead over Turner.

Husted began running two new ads on statewide TV last week – one that touts his record and the endorsements he has picked up from Ohio newspapers; and a second one that attacks Turner, saying she voted against a state budget that that included an income tax cut and voted against another bill prohibiting young people from texting while driving.

Turner, with her limited resources, has tried to push back. She put out her own TV ad last week in what was probably a limited TV ad buy where she goes after Husted for serving “special interests over the middle class.” She also has a radio spot featuring the Rev. Jesse Jackson saying “the fight to protect our vote continues here today in Ohio. Fortunately, we have Nina Turner fighting for us every day.” The ad is running primarily on stations with an African-American audience.

The biggest obstacle for Turner, though is not posters plastered to the walls of polling places, but the fact that the candidate at the top of the Democratic statewide ticket, Ed FitzGerald, has run a stumbling campaign and trails Republican Gov. John Kasich badly in the polls.

Democrats fear the weakness of FitzGerald will trickle down into the down-ticket races for state offices.

Mack Mariani, associate professor of political science at Xavier University, said the fear may be well-founded.

“It’s entirely possible that (FitzGerald) could drag the rest of them down with him,’’ Mariani said.

“The one thing that is uncertain to what degree the Democrats can rely on the turnout machine they had two years ago, a machine that was built by the Obama campaign,’’ Mariani said.

“I’m not really seeing much evidence of it,’’ Mariani said. “Maybe it’s going on below the radar. Maybe they’re just targeting African-American voters.

“But there doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm on the Democratic side,’’ Mariani said. “But if they can get them out to vote – well, an unenthusiastic vote counts the same as an enthusiastic vote.”

And, if they show up, those unenthusiastic voters probably aren’t likely to be influenced by seeing a candidate’s name on a poster in the polling place.