The New Katherine Harris

If you are into nightmare scenarios for next Tuesday, there are plenty available at the moment, ranging from Sandy-enabled delays in voting and/or changes in polling procedures to voter intimidation by suburban Tea Party zealots to the usual last-minute hijinks over polling places, voter lists, and ballot staffing.

But the most likely area of chaos is in Ohio, the state that according to virtually all polls remains a huge obstacle to the election of Mitt Romney. And if you’re looking for a villain-figure–this year’s Katherine Harris–Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has been auditioning for the role all year.

An profile of Husted by Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic emphasizes the man’s tireless devotion to the cause of advancing his party’s interests via voter suppression. Much of it involves Husted’s unblinking pursuit of appeals and even outright defiance when faced with a virtually unbroken series of conflicts with the federal judiciary, mostly over his efforts to restrict early voting opportunities. But he’s been equally intense in fighting the courts over the “right” of local election officials to disregard votes cast by eligible voters in the wrong precinct through no fault of their own. As Cohen observes, both of these battles go far beyond the usual GOP claims of “voter fraud” into the most naked partisanship:

Taking away early voting rights from Ohio citizens has nothing to do with voter fraud. Nor does discounting provisional ballots cast mistakenly as a result of a poll worker’s error. These are voter suppression efforts in their purest forms.

Unfortunately, voting rights advocates and the entire machinery of justice in Ohio seem to be engaged in an extended game of whack-a-mole with Husted, heading off one voter suppression effort only to race after another. It’s reasonable to expect that he might have some surprises in store for Ohio voters next Tuesday.

The analogy with Katherine Harris is not exact. She was a loyal foot soldier of the Bush campaign in Florida in 2000 who unsurprisingly did what was expected of her on every occasion, beginning with pre-election voter purges and continuing with her crucial early certification of victory for The Boss, which wound up being the real basis of the Supreme Court decision shutting down recounts and lifting W. to the presidency. But she did not impress anyone on either side as knowing much about election law. Husted has been pursuing the White Whale of voter suppression for years, dating back to his leadership position in the Ohio legislature. His position at the fiery center of this presidential election reflects not an accident, but a plan reaching fruition. Perhaps the judges have fenced him in to some extent, but I wouldn’t bet against him busting out between now and November 6.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.