Could Ohio’s Jon Husted be the most important person on Election Day?

November 5, 2012

On the eve of Election Day, no other state is receiving more attention than Ohio, a perennial battleground that could well swing the battle for the White House to one side or the other Tuesday. 

If we all awake Wednesday morning to an outcome in the Buckeye State that is too close to call, we're going to hear a third name mentioned alongside President Obama and Mitt Romney: Jon Husted, the Republican secretary of state who could find himself in middle of an overtime tussle that could seize the nation's attention.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) (Associated Press)

As the state's elections chief, Husted would be the principal arbiter in any disputes regarding recounts, ballot issues and other matters pertaining to Tuesday's vote. (Ohio law provides for an automatic recount if the margin separating the candidates is within one-quarter of a percent of the total votes cast.)

So, just who is Husted? Here's a mini-profile of the official who has already been right smack in the middle of conflicts over early voting and provisional ballots:

Husted, 45, a native of Montpelier, Ohio, once looked more like a young man destined for a career in football rather than politics. He was a NCAA Division III All-American defensive back at the University of Dayton. In graduate school, he was close to securing a coaching job at the University of Toledo, but was ultimately bitten by the political bug. 

He worked on a congressional campaign, and after receiving his master's degree, "stayed in the Dayton area and worked for the Montgomery County Commissioners and later as Vice President of Business and Economic Development at the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce," according to his official biography

Husted worked his way up the state's political ranks through the the Ohio legislature. He was elected to the state House in 2000, where he served as speaker from 2005-2008. From there, he went to the state Senate, where he served for two years before being elected secretary of state in 2010. 

If the race in Ohio is uncertain Tuesday, Husted could find himself in the middle of the highest-profile electoral battle of his career. While secretaries of state can generally fly under the radar in the states where the serve, election disputes can thrust unknowns into the state — and sometimes even national — spotlight. Just ask former Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris, who in 2000 certified the victory there of George W. Bush over Al Gore.

Husted is no stranger to disputes over election protocol and has been involved in fights that have appeared to pit Republicans and Democrats against one another. 

He was right in the middle of a fight over the state's early voting period earlier. A Republican-led effort to curb early voting for non-military personnel three days before the election was overturned by a court, and Husted appealed the decision, calling it an "unprecedented intrusion by the federal courts into how states run elections." The Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal, and ultimately, the 72-hour period before Election Day was opened up to all voters, as Democrats, led by the Obama campaign, had been pushing for. 

Husted sparked a new standoff last Friday when he issued a directive instructing election officials to reject provisional ballots that lack complete identification information. Voters — not poll workers — are responsible for completing the identification portion of the ballot, something voting rights advocates say places an improper burden on voters and increases the possibility of error. There's an ongoing legal battle over the provisional ballots that may not be fully decided before Election Day. 

Both the Obama campaign and the Romney team are most assuredly prepared for various scenarios in which, for one reason or another, the fate of Ohio's electoral votes are in doubt even after all the votes are tallied. Husted, no doubt, has also been readying for the possibilities. When all is said and done this election season, it won't be shocking to see a man who many in Ohio may not even know become a national figure. 

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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