CLEVELAND - Despite continued GOP efforts to suppress early voting, record numbers voted at the Board of Elections here as registration for the critical Nov. 6 election ended Tuesday.
A total of 3,748 voted in person at the board that day, shattering the previous record of 2,438 voting on the last day of registration in 2008. Since early voting began on Oct. 2, a total of 9,038 voted at the board, compared with 5,612 during the same period four years ago.
"This is democracy in action," said a smiling Blaine Griffin, vice chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, as he stood watching the continual parade of early voters coming into the board.
The great majority of early voters were African American, brought by pastors and community groups angered at the relentless effort by Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted and the administration of Gov. John Kasich to suppress their votes.
In addition, the Amalgamated Transit Union, representing regional bus and rapid transit drivers, drove vans bringing nearly 300 seniors from Cleveland high schools to vote at the board. The union then joined up with canvassers from the Toledo-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) working in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood here to register voters and bring them downtown to vote at the board.
The same day Husted announced he would go to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge a federal appeals court decision overturning the state voter suppression law. The law, banning boards from allowing early voting the three days prior to the election, was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court in August and that ruling was reaffirmed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals last week. Although federal intervention to guarantee ballot access has occurred many times in many states, Husted called the court ruling an "unprecedented intrusion" into Ohio's administration of elections.
About 93,000 Ohioans voted on the three days prior to the 2008 presidential election, with studies showing that 56% of those doing so in Cuyahoga County were African American, as were a disproportionate number elsewhere in the state. The Sunday before the election was the occasion when Black churches bussed "souls to the polls" in 2008.
The appeals court found that Husted had "proposed no interest which would justify reducing the opportunity to vote by a considerable segment of the voting population."
Husted's appeal to "state's rights" to block early voting by African Americans was denounced as an ugly reminder that the same argument was used by the Southern Dixiecrats to defend racial segregation in the 1960s.
"Jim Crow has just moved north," said State Sen. Nina Turner, who, along with Congresswoman Marcia Fudge and other African American leaders, has led the fight against the GOP voter suppression drive.
"This is about race and class," she said, noting that Husted also limited the hours of early in-person voting at election boards to weekday working hours, thereby preventing many workers from being able to vote.
Organize For America (the campaign to re-elect President Barack Obama), the Ohio Unity Coalition of unions and Black churches, as well as many community groups such as the NAACP Voter Fund, have been conducting intense registration drives. The number of registered voters (new registrants minus those removed from the rolls) in Cuyahoga County has risen by over 34,000 since the beginning of the year.
Photo: Early voting at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland, Oct. 2. AP/The Plain Dealer, Marvin Fong