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Context of 'Between October 22, 2004 and October 29, 2004: Ohio Republic Party Withdraws Thousands of Challenges'

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The Ohio Republican Party, headed by Robert T. Bennett, sends 232,000 letters to all of Ohio’s voters who registered between January 1 and August 31. The letter reportedly welcomes the newly registered voters and encourages them to vote Republican. Roughly 30,000 of the letters are returned as undeliverable either because the intended recipients do not exist, have moved or died, or because the letters went to vacant houses or bogus addresses. Commenting on the large number of returned ballots, Bennett later tells the Columbus Dispatch, “It was an astounding number. The potential for these fraudulent registrations to produce fraudulent votes at the ballot box is very real.” David Sullivan, Ohio coordinator for the Democrats’ voter-protection project, disagrees, claiming that the Republicans’ mass mailing was “an unprecedented effort to throw tens of thousands of voters off of Ohio’s voting rolls.” [Columbus Dispatch, 10/23/2004]

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

In Ohio, Republican Party officials submit a list of 35,427 registered voters in 65 different counties whose mailing addresses, they say, are questionable to county election boards. 17,717 names on the list are of newly registered voters from Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, a Democratic stronghold. [Columbus Dispatch, 10/23/2004; New York Times, 10/23/2004]

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

The Republican Party provides Ohio election officials with lists of the people they have recruited to work as “challengers” on election day. According to a 1953 Ohio state law—which critics says is rooted in a blatantly racist 1886 statute that emerged after the Civil War—“challengers” are permitted to challenge the qualifications of voters who they suspect are not eligible to vote. [New York Times, 10/23/2004; Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/1/2004] Before a challenger can ask a poll worker to question a voter, it must first be shown that there is “reasonable” justification for doubting a voter’s qualifications. All eligible voters must be citizens, at least 18, a resident of the county and must have lived in Ohio for the previous 30 days. The Republicans’ list includes 3,600 challengers, many of whom will be working in the heavily Democratic urban neighborhoods of Cleveland, Dayton and other cities. For example 1,436 of the Republican challengers will be stationed in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, a Democratic stronghold. The Republicans claim that using challengers is necessary because the Democrats may have fraudulently registered thousands of ineligible voters. The Democrats enlist more than 2,000 recruits as challengers who they hope will protect legitimate voters from being denied their rights by their Republican counterparts. But in some of the most critical counties the Democrats will be grossly outnumbered. For Cuyahoga County, the Democrats will only have 300 challengers. [New York Times, 10/23/2004] Election officials are concerned about the huge number of challenges that are expected at the polls. “I’m not sure how we’re going to accomplish this,” says John Williams, deputy elections director in Hamilton County. “We’ve never had anything like this before.” Some fear that the challengers intend to reduce voter turnout. “Some observers worry the parties will indiscriminately challenge voters in heavily Democratic or Republican precincts as a strategy to discourage people from voting,” The Columbus Dispatch reports. [Columbus Dispatch, 10/23/2004]

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

The GOP withdraws about 5,000 challenges (See October 22, 2004) in Hamilton County after discovering errors. [Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 10/31/2004]

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

County election boards in Ohio hold hearings to verify the voting addresses of roughly 30,000 recently registered voters whose eligibility to vote has been challenged by the Republican Party (see October 22, 2004). [WTOV 9 (Steubenville, OH), 10/27/2004; New York Times, 10/29/2004] According to Democratic officials, Republicans challenging voters at the hearings have little or no evidence to support their claims, other than that the voter’s registration card was returned “undeliverable” (see Between September 2004 and Mid-October 2004). In Summit County, elections officials reject all 976 challenges after the challengers fail to provide evidence. Similarly, in Warren County, officials throw out every one of the county’s 23 challenges. [Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 10/31/2004]

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

Judge Susan J. Dlott, of Federal District Court in Cincinnati, blocks the election boards of six Ohio counties—Franklin, Lawrence, Medina, Cuyahoga, Scioto, and Trumbull—from holding voter verification hearings (see October 23, 2004-October 29, 2004). [WTOV 9 (Steubenville, OH), 10/27/2004; New York Times, 10/29/2004]

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upholds Judge Susan Dlott’s October 28 ruling (see October 28, 2004) halting voter registration hearings (see October 23, 2004-October 29, 2004) in six Ohio counties. [New York Times, 10/29/2004]

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

Judge Susan Dlott issues an injunction halting challenge hearings (See October 23, 2004-October 29, 2004) in all of the state’s 88 counties. [New York Times, 10/29/2004]

Entity Tags: Susan J. Dlott

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

Following Judge Susan Dlott’s ruling (see Afternoon, October 29, 2004), Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell instructs Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro to recommend to federal judges that all challengers be barred from polling locations. [Columbus Dispatch, 10/31/2004; Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/1/2004] He reasons that poll workers hired and paid by the local election boards and supplied by the parties should be able to protect against voter fraud. He also says the challengers could generate confusion. [New York Times, 10/29/2004; Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 10/31/2004] But Petro refuses, saying that to do so would be a violation of Ohio law. “Neither the secretary of state nor I can negotiate away the legal rights of Ohio’s citizens,” Petro says in a statement. “Thus, I cannot submit to the federal courts the secretary’s unlawful proposal to ban all challengers for all parties, candidates or issues on Election Day.” Both officials are Republicans. [Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 10/31/2004; Columbus Dispatch, 10/31/2004; Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/1/2004]

Entity Tags: J. Kenneth Blackwell, Jim Petro

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

In a fax to US District Judge Susan Dlott, Assistant Attorney General R. Alexander Acosta, offers the Justice Department’s unsolicited opinion on a pre-election lawsuit that has been filed by Donald and Marian Spencer (see October 29, 2004), elderly African American civil rights activists, who claim that Republican plans to deploy thousands of partisan challengers to Ohio polls on election day violates the US Constitution and the 1965 Voting Rights because it targets black neighborhoods in Hamilton County. Copies of the fax are sent to Al Gerhardstein, who is representing the Spencers, and Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro. [Beacon Journal (Akron, OH), 10/31/2004; Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 10/31/2004] Acosta writes in his letter that civil rights lawyers for the Bush administration’s Justice Department see no reason why the plan would be illegal. “[N]othing in the Voting Rights Act facially condemns challenge statutes,” the letter claims. Bush’s Justice Department also argues that “[r]estricting the ability of citizens to make challenges when they have such information would undermine the ability of election officials to enforce their own state laws that govern the eligibility for voting.” [Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 10/31/2004; Beacon Journal (Akron, OH), 10/31/2004; Los Angeles Times, 11/1/2004] Gerhardstein says he believes the Justice Department may have breached legal rules by contacting the judge directly. “It is totally unusual, it is unprecedented for the Justice Department to offer its opinions on the merits of a case like that,” he tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “This is the civil rights division saying it is OK for voters to be ambushed when they reach for a ballot.” [Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 10/31/2004] Similarly, he tells the Los Angeles Times: “The Justice Department is not a party to the case. They have not filed a motion to intervene in the case or filed an amicus brief. They volunteered information that goes beyond any federal interest.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/1/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, R. Alexander Acosta, Marian Spencer, Al Gerhardstein, Donald Spencer, Susan J. Dlott

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

In Cincinnati, US District Judge Susan J. Dlott rules on a case brought by Donald and Marian Spencer (see Evening, October 31, 2004), in which the couple challenged the GOP’s plan to deploy challengers to polling sites in Hamilton County (see 4:00 p.m., October 22, 2004). Dlott, appointed by Clinton in 1994, rules against the Republican plan, noting that there is no need to have challengers since Ohio already requires the presence of election judges at precincts in order to avoid voter fraud. “Under Ohio law, each polling place is staffed by four election judges, no more than two of whom can be from a single party,” the Los Angeles Times explains. “One of the four is appointed by each county election board to be the presiding judge, who can rule on challenges to a voter’s qualifications.” Dlott warns in her 18-page decision that the Republican plan, if permitted, could cause “chaos, delay, intimidation and pandemonium inside the polls and in the lines outside the door.” She notes “that 14 percent of new voters in a majority white location will face a challenger… but 97 percent of new voters in a majority African American voting location will see such a challenger.” Dlott says also that the law permitting challengers does not sufficiently protect citizens’ fundamental right to vote. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/1/2004; Columbus Dispatch, 11/1/2004; Los Angeles Times, 11/2/2004; Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/2/2004] Dlott ruling is very similar to another one that is delivered a few hours later in a similar case in Akron (see Early Morning, November 1, 2004). Commenting on the two rulings, two election law experts, professor Edward Foley of Ohio State University Law School in Columbus and Richard L. Hasen of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, both tell the Los Angeles Times that they consider it significant that the two judges have provided similar rationales for their rulings. “It is quite striking that the reasoning of both judges is the same and they echo one another,” Foley says. [Los Angeles Times, 11/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Susan J. Dlott, Marian Spencer, Richard L. Hasen, Edward Foley, Donald Spencer

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

In Akron, Ohio, US District Judge John R. Adams rules on a case brought by local residents (see Late October 2004), challenging the Republicans’ plan to station challengers at polling sites in 65 Ohio counties (see 4:00 p.m., October 22, 2004). Adams, appointed by Bush in 2002, rules against the GOP plan. In his decision he notes that Ohio already requires the presence of election judges at precincts in order to avoid voter fraud and that there is therefore no need to place challengers at the polls. “Under Ohio law, each polling place is staffed by four election judges, no more than two of whom can be from a single party,” the Los Angeles Times explains. “One of the four is appointed by each county election board to be the presiding judge, who can rule on challenges to a voter’s qualifications.” Judge Adams also expresses concern that “random challenges or challenges without cause advanced by members of any political party… could result in retaliatory ‘tit for tat’ challenges at the polling places.” Furthermore, he argues, “If challenges are made with any frequency, the resultant distraction and delay could give rise to chaos and a level of voter frustration that would turn qualified electors away from the polls” Finally, Adams also says that the law permitting challengers does not adequately protect a citizen’s fundamental right to vote. [Los Angeles Times, 11/2/2004] Adams ruling is very similar to another one that was delivered just a few hours ago in a similar case in Cleveland (see 1:24 a.m., November 1, 2004). Commenting on the two rulings, two election law experts, professor Edward Foley of Ohio State University Law School in Columbus and Richard L. Hasen of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, both tell the Los Angeles Times that they consider it significant that the two judges have provided similar rationales for their rulings. “It is quite striking that the reasoning of both judges is the same and they echo one another,” Foley says. [Los Angeles Times, 11/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Edward Foley, John R. Adams, Richard L. Hasen

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

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