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Anyone who follows politics knows how important a Secretary of State can be in deciding how a state hands out its electoral college votes.

In 2000, Florida’s Secretary of State Katherine Harris (also co-chair of Bush/Cheney’s campaign in that state) purged enough voters from voter rolls in 2000 to give George W. Bush a chance to make the election so close it had to be decided in the Supreme Court. In 2004, extraordinarily long waits in Ohio caused up to 3 percent of voters in urban areas and around college campuses to leave their lines — possibly swinging the state to President Bush. Ohio’s Secretary of State that year was Ken Blackwell, the co-chair of Bush/Cheney’s Ohio campaign.

In 2008, Democrat Jennifer Brunner was Ohio’s Secretary of State. After a federally funded survey of Ohio’s elections, the state implemented extensive early voting—30 percent of the state voted early, including a large percentage of African-Americans, who are some of the president’s strongest supporters in the state.

After a wave election in 2010, Republicans across the nation began an active attempt to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning citizens. Ohio’s newly elected Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted began to take steps to limit early voting.

Franklin County’s Republican Chair Doug Preisse told the Columbus Dispatch in August, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine.”

Counties were allowed to set their own hours — with Republican districts offering more opportunities to vote. When The New York Times noticed this discrimination, Husted made the hours uniform but canceled voting the weekend before the election for all voters except members of the military. Nearly 100,000 Ohioans voted the weekend before the election in 2008. The Obama campaign sued and  the Romney campaign falsely charged that they were trying to limit military voting.

A federal court ruled that the restrictions were “arbitrary” and opened voting to all eligible Ohioans. Husted first ordered officials not to comply with the ruling but relented when federal Judge Peter Economus called him into court.

Husted allowed the early voting, but with an abbreviated schedule which resulted in long lines throughout the state.

With just hours to go before the polls close, Husted has laid another trap for voters. The Secretary of State shifted the burden of filling out a provisional ballot from the poll worker to the voter. And any ballot that isn’t filled out correctly will be thrown out. Ari Berman, who is covering the election for The Nation, says, “This seemingly innocuous change has the potential to impact the counting of thousands of votes in Ohio and could swing the election in this closely contested battleground.”

Why is Husted doing this? Why did Harris or Blackwell do everything in their power to help the Republican candidate win in 2000 and 2004?

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to suggest that Republican state officials will do anything they can to win the White House for their party. Evidence shows this to be true.

Ohio will likely settle the election and until the last few days it seemed as if it could go either way. In 2008, the Real Clear Politics showed then-Senator Obama with a 2.4 percent lead going into the election. This year he has a 2.8 percent lead and is leading in early voting, again.

However, the polls could be wrong and the totals could easily be close enough that long enough lines and tossed ballots will make the difference. And if he’s the man who swings Ohio for Mitt Romney, Husted could win a seat in Congress — as Katherine Harris did — or go on to be a very well-paid Republican consultant, like Ken Blackwell.

Billions of dollars in donations, trillions in tax breaks and government contracts are on the line on November 6. Jon Husted has made it clear that he will do whatever he can to stop Democratic voters from re-electing the president.

Now it’s up to the voters to do the only thing they can: Try to vote.

Photo credit: AP Photo/David Goldman

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