- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Board of Elections today can stare down the increasingly rogue voting rights section of the U.S. Department of Justice, which continues to play ethnic politics nationwide. The state of Georgia recently forced the department to back off from its bullying tactics, and this Buckeye county should do the same.

Justice officials have threatened legal action against the county board unless it prints all its ballots in bilingual fashion. “With additional requirements for translators, community outreach, additional staffing and printing, the demand potentially would double the county’s election costs,” board member Rob Frost told Jennifer Rubin of the Weekly Standard. “The Justice attorneys said they were authorized to sue the county. …”

The Justice Department’s position is wrongheaded on several levels. First, the department bases its demand on Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act, which is meant to ensure ballot access for Puerto Rican natives who never learned English. Nothing in 4(e) requires that every ballot in a jurisdiction be printed in Spanish - but only that those Puerto Rican voters not be denied the right to vote due to an inability “to read, write, understand or interpret any matter in the English language.” There’s no reason to find the county noncompliant if most of its ballots are English-only, as long as its Spanish speakers have access to Spanish ballots upon request.

Second, as a purely practical matter, forcing Cuyahoga to print all its ballots in Spanish is overkill. According to Mr. Frost, Justice officials say only 6,334 people of Puerto Rican heritage in the county have limited English proficiency, and it’s unclear how many of them are registered to vote. In a county of nearly a million registered voters, why burden all those ballots with Spanish when just one-half of 1 percent of voters need such special help?

The Cuyahoga board meets today at 2:30 p.m., with this dispute heading its agenda. It should take a cue from Georgia and tell the department to take a hike. Justice tried for more than a year to force the state to drop its requirement that people registering to vote verify citizenship. Faced with determined and legally correct insistence by Georgia officials that its law was perfectly allowable, Justice last month suddenly backed off. As columnist John Fund reported on Saturday, “no evidence existed that anyone had been barred from voting because they were incorrectly listed as a noncitizen.”

The voting rights section at Justice is out of control. North Carolina voters now are suing because Justice refused to allow a black-majority town to adopt nonpartisan elections on the ground that the black voters would harm their own interests by choosing to do so. Pro-soldier watchdogs are fighting back against apparent Justice attempts to water down guarantees of military voting rights - attempts led by the same official, Rebecca Wertz, who has been pressuring Cuyahoga County. This is the same gang that bungled the now-infamous New Black Panther voter-intimidation case.

The lesson here is that the Obama Justice Department doesn’t define the law; it politicizes it. If Cuyahoga fights back, courts should support the county.