Ohio Democrats in Charlotte took aim Monday at what they called “voter suppression” efforts by Republicans, including Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.
“The secretary of suppression, Jon Husted, he and his cronies have got a plan and that is to steal this election. And by golly we’re not going to let that happen.” said Tom Ritchie Sr., who was fired by Husted last week in a dispute over early voting, as was fellow Democratic member of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, Dennis Lieberman.
Ritchie, a party delegate and director of field services for AFSCME Ohio Council 8, and Lieberman were honored Monday by the Ohio delegation. The delegation met in the morning as they gathered for Democratic National Convention, where President Barack Obama is to be nominated for reelection on Thursday. Ritchie and Lieberman received a standing ovation from the 225-member delegation when they were called to the stage by Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern.
“Tom and I are not heroes,” said Lieberman, who attended the breakfast as a guest of the delegation. “What Tom and I did was simply stand up for what was right. The same as each and every one of you would do.”
The party moved to capitalize on the controversy by sending out an emailed fund-raising letter, signed by Ritchie and Lieberman, shortly after the breakfast meeting broke up on Monday.
Husted fired Ritchie and Lieberman as board members after they refused to rescind the county’s already-approved weekend early voting hours. Those hours were a violation, Husted said, of his August directive that ordered all counties to adopt the exact same evening hours - and no weekends - for early voting. Until Husted’s directive county boards were free to set their own hours for in-person early voting.
Also last week, a federal judge ruled in favor of the Obama administration in a separate lawsuit over a new state law prohibiting in-person voting for anyone but military members in the last three days before the election, ordering that the three days be restored for everyone.
Reached by phone on Monday Husted said it is his job to make sure the law is followed, and that the federal court ruling in the Obama lawsuit acknowledged his power to issue directives regarding voting hours.
“What Dennis and Tom did was break Ohio election law and I have a responsibility to make sure election law is followed in Ohio,” Husted said.
Husted said he was a leader in the state legislature in expanding early voting after the 2004 election and he had to fight Democratic opponents to get it approved.
Lieberman said the controversy should act as a lightning rod to spur activism.
“Its time to vote. It’s time to take 10 people to the polls and vote. No matter what they do to us, no matter what hours they try to force on us, we will vote,” Lieberman said.
Democrats believe Republicans across the country are enacting voter ID laws, limits on early voting and making other election law changes in an effort to suppress Democratic votes. Republican supporters of those measures say they are needed to minimize opportunities for fraudulent voting.
“It is a coordinated effort by Republican leaders to disenfranchise voters,” Redfern said in an interview Monday afternoon.
Teresa Law, a delegate from Springfield, said people tell her they are confused by all the changes and controversy over voting hours in Ohio.
“It’s an extremely important issue,” said Law. “These are civil rights, folks.”
The convention officially begins on Tuesday but Democrats began arriving in Charlotte on Sunday, attending caucuses and other meetings. Monday’s breakfast included a speech by Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO.
Saunders said Ohio is critical in the battle to defeat Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
“You are the ones who can make sure that the only way that Mitt Romney can get to the White House is if he stands in line with everybody else and he goes on the White House tour,” Samuelson said.
Samuelson brought down the house at the end of his speech when he pulled an empty chair up to the podium and began addressing it, playing off actor Clint Eastwood’s speech to an imaginary Obama at the Republican National Convention last week.
“Clint, what do you have to say for yourself?” said Saunders. “He doesn’t have anything to say. Mitt Romney doesn’t have anything to say. Paul Ryan doesn’t have anything to say. So Dirty Harry make my day.”