Wednesday, September 10, 2008

On Brunner

Someone recently gave me credit for defending Jennifer Brunner against partisan attacks on her performance. Unfortunately, I can't take much credit on that front. I've spent most of my time concerned with the County BOE's, and only indirectly supporting Brunner by focusing on our shared opinion that there is some serious shaping up that has been needed at that level.

Let me rectify that a bit.

First of all, the GOP likes to push this idea that Brunner is a partisan in an office that should be completely impartial. I'm inclined to think that this is a clever and audacious trap by the GOP, as the immediate response that springs to mind is that Ken Blackwell was the ^$#@ State Chair for the Bush campaign in 2004! He didn't even make a pretense of non-partisan neutrality, and none of today's complainers had a problem then!! Unfortunately, when this defense is used, it can leave the idea behind that Dems are excusing Brunner, by saying that Brunner is not as partisan as Blackwell. That's not it. Brunner has demanded the resignation of Democrats from the Cuyahoga County Board. From the tone of the comments attributed to Franklin County officials, it would seem that she has gotten under the skin of Democrats here as well. She has refused the demands of the stolen-elections crowd to re-open examinations of the 2004 tally. I'm sure that there are Democrats who looked forward to having a partisan in the office. They haven't gotten it.

Second, she has been entirely competent and her office has pushed their successes and fixed their mistakes. Last spring I had some contact with the SOS office about my voting experience, and my pet issue of pollworkers not understanding ID requirements. I got sympathy and an invitation to look at the new training manual, which they were quite proud of. I read it and complained that it was still misleading pollworkers and would lead to bad training. The online manual was updated. On the other hand, when complaints came in from the GOP, and the counties, and the manufacturers about Brunner's insistence that the voting machines in use were not sufficiently reliable, she refused to back down. The manufacturer later admitted that it was not an end-user problem, it was not the fault of some other software interfering with their work, that it was in fact an error in their software code that was leading to dropped votes.

I'd like to add that votes dropped in Butler County in November would almost certainly have been votes favoring McCain.

Then they went after her because she refused to force counties to mail out an absentee ballot application to every voter, as she had been instructed by the legislature. Brunner's position is that the legislature had not provided enough money to comply with the request. I'm more ambivalent on this one. If the shoe were on the other foot I could probably make a case against Brunner. My guess is that the applications will all get sent out, counties will eat the cost, and counties will all know that it was Husted, not Brunner, that gave them the budget hit. I'm sure that if she had issued the directive along with the insufficient funds, there would have been a significant fraction of the 88 counties who would be grumbling abot the SOS instead. I'd be more dismissive of the political move on Brunner's part if I was more confident that Husted hadn't been trying to place her in a situation where he could rip on her regardless of her response.

Most recently, the GOP is upset because Brunner is requiring that applications for absentee ballots not be accepted unless the person making the request has affirmed that they are a qualified elector. The GOP is upset because this requirement is disproportionately impacting McCain supporters. This is true. It is true because the McCain campaign designed an application that makes it more complicated to affirm elector status than the form provided by the state. Once again, I'm ambivalent. I have to admit that I'm generally in favor of giving voters every reasonable benefit of the doubt, and the thought that people are managing to succesfully register to vote, but are not currently qualified electors, and are sending in applications for ballots and intentionally leaving a box unchecked because they are aware that they are not qualified electors, is somewhat silly.

On the other hand, the McCain campaign is not blameless (I've been more than happy to criticize poorly designed forms from the State), and allowing people who have NOT affirmed that they are qualified electors to get ballots is exactly the sort of scenario that typically throws Republican vote-fraud opponents into a major tizzy. I don't think that Brunner could have maintained credibility if she had let this one slide, and I'm reasonably satisfied that sufficient efforts are being made to ensure that applicants eventually receive their absentee ballots.

Finally, the GOP is upset because there is a window during which one can register to vote and vote absentee on the same day. Let me make sure that folks understand something here. In 2006, I had a problem voting. I was given the wrong ballot, and I was vocal about my experience. The reason I got the wrong ballot was because I went to the BOE during the first week in October, registered to vote in Bexley, and was given the opportunity to vote early absentee in person 5 minutes later. As they had never attempted this before, they failed to ensure that my ballot reflected my new registration in Bexley, and not my old registration in the Short North. Eventually, after protesting and much consultation, I was given the right ballot.

For some of you, the point of this story will be that perhaps same day registration/absentee voting isn't such a good idea. I'm neutral on that issue. The point you should all be taking from this story is that


This isn't a new law. This isn't Brunner's policy. It was created and implemented at a time when the Governor, Legislature, and SOS office were all controlled by Republicans.

At the end of the day, running elections is a damn tough job. I make no excuses for having very high standards, but I have a lot of respect for those who put their public reputation on the line trying to meet them. My impression of Jennifer Brunner has been that her first and foremost priority is and has always been ensuring the freest and fairest possible elections in Ohio. The best her critics have been able to do is take shots at the way she has chosen to tackle problems, problems that they wouldn't have had the guts to address at all.

Brunner's attempts to clean up BOE's have not always been smooth, but Husted seems to prefer that elections be run by those with political connections rather than those with competence. Brunner's campaign to ensure the reliability of voting mechanisms has led to major potential expenses for counties and the state, but Husted and the GOP seem to believe that a certain level of slop in the vote count isn't really that bad of a thing. And given the upcoming redistricting battles, you can be sure that Husted and the GOP aren't as upset that the SOS is a Democrat as much as they are that the SOS is not a partisan Republican. They want to win the office in 2010, and they want to have a partisan win it, and they want that person to act in a partisan manner in drawing legislative districts. To that end, they WANT Brunner to be partisan, and I imagine that they are frustrated that she doesn't give them many opportunities to paint her as such.

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