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Profile: Donald Spencer
Donald Spencer was a participant or observer in the following events:
In Cincinnati, Donald and Marian Spencer, elderly African American civil rights activists, go to federal district court to challenge the 1953 Ohio law that permits poll watchers to challenge voters (see 4:00 p.m., October 22, 2004). Critics of the law say it is rooted in a blatantly racist 1886 statute that emerged after the Civil War. The couple is supported in their case by the Democrats. The couple complains that most of the Republican challengers will be deployed in the heavily black precincts in the Cincinnati area in order to suppress minority voters. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/1/2004; Los Angeles Times, 11/2/2004] David Maume, a sociologist from the University of Cincinnati, testifies that demographic data show a disproportionate number of Republican challengers would be sent to precincts that are predominantly Africa-American. Maume further explains that perhaps as many as 77 percent of black voters would encounter a challenger on Election Day, compared with 25 percent of white voters. There is “a clear correlation between a voting population that is black and the placement of Republican challengers,” Maume concludes. [Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 10/31/2004] The court resumes hearing on the case Sunday evening (see Evening, October 31, 2004). [Los Angeles Times, 11/2/2004]
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]
In Cincinnati, Donald and Marian Spencer, go to federal district court to resume their challenge (see October 29, 2004) of a 1953 Ohio law that permits poll watchers to challenge voters (see 4:00 p.m., October 22, 2004). The couple contends that most of the Republican challengers will be working in the heavily black precincts in the Cincinnati area in order to suppress minority voters. The court decides early Monday morning (see 1:24 a.m., November 1, 2004). [Los Angeles Times, 11/2/2004]
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]
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