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Profile: Dennis Lieberman
Dennis Lieberman was a participant or observer in the following events:
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R-OH) suspends the two Democrats on the Montgomery County Board of Elections after they refuse to give ground in a conflict over extended in-person early voting hours for the November 2012 election. The elections boards in each Ohio county are made up of two Republicans and two Democrats. Dennis Lieberman and Tom Ritchie Sr. must appear at a hearing in Columbus that will determine whether Husted will remove them from office. Husted’s action is announced in a letter delivered to each of the two, which reads in part, “You leave me no choice but to begin the process necessary to remove you as members of the Montgomery County Board of Elections.” Early voting for Ohio citizens begins on October 2. The debate over in-person absentee voting, often called early voting, has been rancorous in some counties. In counties with strong Republican majorities, both Republicans and Democrats have voted to extend early voting hours for those counties’ residents. But in counties with strong Democratic majorities, Republicans have voted against extending those same voting hours. By law, Husted must cast the tie-breaking votes for those counties, and he has always voted against the voting hour extensions. Democrats in Ohio and other states were furious, saying that Husted was conspiring to dilute the Democratic vote in Ohio; Husted’s explanations have been that his votes saved Ohio money and that voters in those counties had “sufficient time already” for voting. Husted eventually agreed on uniform early voting hours for all 88 of Ohio’s counties, but the uniform hours fail to include weekend hours. Today, before his suspension, Lieberman proposed that Montgomery County continue to offer weekend voting hours, saying that Husted’s directive on the issue did not specifically forbid it. After a heated discussion, the Montgomery elections board voted 2-2 on the issue, sending the matter to Husted. Within hours, Husted replied with a sharply worded letter to the board forbidding the weekend voting hours, ordering the board to meet again that afternoon and rescind the motion, and threatened board members opposing his directive with firing. In the afternoon meeting, Lieberman refuses to rescind his motion. He is joined by Ritchie. Both are suspended later in the afternoon. Lieberman says during the discussion: “I believe that this is so critical to our freedom in America, and to individual rights to vote, that I am doing what I think is right, and I cannot vote to rescind this motion. In 10 years, I’ve never received a threat that if I don’t do what they want me to do, I could be fired. I find this reprehensible.” Republican board member Greg Gantt says during the Friday meeting that he has no intention of challenging Husted on this issue. When Lieberman compares Gantt’s position to that taken at the 1947 Nuremberg trials by Nazi war criminals, Gantt becomes irate, saying: “That’s not called for. Rescind the motion or not and let’s get out of here. I’m not going to sit here and listen to comments like that.… I am so disappointed that we’ve had such a great rapport on this board for the past decade, but it’s all [gone].” Lieberman retorts that Gantt has mocked Democrats’ concerns about being disenfranchised in previous discussions, saying, “I’m sorry if I’ve offended you Greg, but when you refer to our arguments as ‘hypothetical crap,’ I think you should expect some push back, and you got it.” Dozens of county residents attend the meeting, and their comments generally mirror the discussion among board members. Resident Elaine Herrick downplays any hardship caused by the restricted early hours, while Reverend Marty McMichael of a local Methodist Church says the refusal will deny some citizens the opportunity to vote, and predicts: “Whatever happens here today, the community will be strengthened by it. Because either the right thing will happen or the wrong thing will happen, and then we will make our voices known.” After he and Lieberman are suspended, Ritchie says that neither of the Republicans on the board moved to rescind his motion either, and he asks why they, too, were not suspended. “I intend to fight this,” he says. “I already have been in contact with legal counsel, and I’ll be prepared [at the hearing] to answer [Husted’s] allegations.” Ritchie calls the elimination of weekend voting “a continued attempt to suppress Americans from exercising their right to vote.” It is a tradition in many African-American churches for their congregations to go en masse to vote on the Sunday before the scheduled election—sometimes nicknamed “Souls to the Polls”—a tradition that will not be observed this election if Husted’s ruling stands. After suspending Lieberman and Ritchie, Husted announces that he has broken the Montgomery County tie, rejecting the weekend voting, and threatens other board members with suspension and possible firing if they cast their votes for weekend voting times. [Dayton Daily News, 8/17/2012; Buzzfeed, 8/17/2012]
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