Sometimes, Election News Feels Like Groundhog Day

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[Image courtesy of lionsroar]

Many days, as I scroll through the election news, I discover something new or a different way of looking at an old story.

Today is not one of those days.

In fact, today’s headlines include a handful of stories that made me feel like Bill Murray’s beleaguered character in Groundhog Day: “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?”

In Ohio, plaintiffs represented by a leading Democratic attorney (who also represents presidential candidate Hillary Clinton) filed suit against the state seeking to block and overturn a handful of election practices – some of which were included in a settlement reached last month in response to another similar lawsuit – that they say suppress the votes of likely Democratic voters. News of that lawsuit led to this mildly amusing but utterly predictable exchange between GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted and attorney (and Clinton general counsel) Marc Elias, as captured by the Columbus Dispatch:

“[S]ome politicians don’t want peace, they just want to play politics, again. Ohioans don’t want politically motivated, legal lap dogs messing around in our elections. This nonsense creates more confusion and discourages voting by undermining voter confidence,” Husted said in a release.

“I suspect Mrs. Clinton’s attorney may have filed his suit in the wrong state as Ohio has ample early voting hours. Perhaps he intended to sue Hillary’s home state of New York where they have no early voting days or hours. … Mrs. Clinton’s political associates are simply intending to interject chaos into Ohio’s nationally recognized voting system.”

Elias said the action came on behalf of those listed on the lawsuit, not the campaign of Clinton, the former Democratic secretary of state who so far is beating all comers in polls of prospective 2016 presidential matchups.

“My firm and I have brought a number of lawsuits throughout the country to vindicate the right to vote,” Elias told The Dispatch. “Our lawsuit is on behalf of the plaintiffs listed in the complaint. It is unfortunate that Secretary Husted chose to respond with a political attack rather than working to remedy the problems identified in our suit.”

Not entirely surprising, since it’s May of a presidential year … what? It’s only May 2015? Sigh. Moving on …

In Minnesota, a sweeping election bill has passed the state Senate on a party-line vote, leading opponents to remind supporters that Governor Mark Dayton has pledged not to sign any bill that doesn’t have bipartisan support. This time, the fight is about early voting, felon voting rights and registration reform, as the Duluth News-Tribune reports:

The Democrat-controlled Senate approved 39-28 a bill to allow mail balloting in small cities and townships, expand voting before Election Day and let felons vote once released from prison…

Republicans opposed the election bill by Sen. Katie Sieben, D-Newport.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, reminded senators that Gov. Mark Dayton has said that he would only sign an election bill that passes with strong bipartisan support, which Sieben’s bill did not receive.

“It’s too bad we can’t agree that we can have a noncontroversial election bill,” Hann said after a party-line vote on a GOP amendment failed to strip the Sieben legislation of what Republicans considered controversial provisions.

This dust-up isn’t so unexpected, given the partisan ferocity of the statewide amendment campaign about voter ID … (checks calendar) … nope, that was 2012. Hmm. What else?

In Florida, county election officials are starting to get nervous because the Governor has yet to respond to their requests to discuss the online voter registration bill awaiting his signature. The Tampa Bay Times’ Steve Bousquet has the story:

The silence from Gov. Rick Scott is deafening.

Three times in recent weeks, Florida’s 67 county elections supervisors have written to Scott and asked to meet with him to ease his concerns about a bill requiring his administration to develop an online voter registration system by October 2017.

Three times, Scott has responded with silence.

Not “I’m too busy.”

Not “Go away.”

Nothing.

“Unfortunately, no response,” Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley told his colleagues Thursday as he urged them to mobilize their constituents to call or email Scott in favor of an idea now embraced in 25 states.

Scott’s problem is that his own Secretary of State, while vastly outnumbered by OVR supporters, has doubled down on some very public opposition to the bill:

Scott’s chief elections official, Ken Detzner, strongly opposes the idea and says it would be risky to do it at a time when voting and driver’s license databases are being upgraded and the 2016 presidential election is around the corner.

Here’s where things get even more strange.

Detzner has been shouting for weeks about why an online voter registration form is a dumb idea, warning about “forces of evil” out to disrupt Florida elections. But he told reporters Scott hasn’t asked him his opinion.

“The governor’s not asked me about that issue,” Detzner said. “I’m just standing by. It’s his decision to make.”

In other words, Detzner is also getting the silent treatment from his boss, the governor.

I’m not even going to attempt a joke here; Bousquet’s right – it’s strange.

Days like today serve as a vivid reminder that no matter how much election officials and others work to improve the voting process, there are still forces outside of the field who care just as passionately and are willing to re-fight old battles to get their way.

It’s completely understandable, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t more than a little discouraging. I have no doubt that tomorrow’s news will bring something new but today feels like Groundhog Day: “It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be grey, and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.”

On that cheerful note – stay tuned 🙂

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