A sweeping overhaul of Ohio's election laws passed the Senate on a party-line vote yesterday, and a bill requiring Ohio voters to present a photo ID before casting a ballot is now on track to move next week.
After a day filled with heated rhetoric and shifting plans, majority Republicans pushed through House Bill 194, which moves the 2012 presidential primary from March to May.
The bill, which the House is likely to send to Gov. John Kasich next week after approving Senate changes, would let Ohioans register to vote or change their addresses online and reduce early voting from 35 days before an election to 21 days by mail and 17 in person - which eliminates the so-called "golden week" when people could register and vote on the same day.
Under the direction of GOP Governor John Kasich---himself the beneficiary of a dubious vote count in 2010---the Ohio Republicans are clearly determined to make it as difficult as possible for traditional Democrats to register, vote or get their votes counted in future elections.
Since 2000, the Republicans have eliminated more than a 1.5 million voters from the Buckeye state voter rolls. The purges have been centered on urban voters. Moreover, in 2004 hundreds of thousands of additional Ohio voters were disenfranchised by orchestrated bottlenecks at polling places that forced people to wait seven hours and more in line. The lines were most evident in the heavily Democratic urban areas of Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.
But in 2008, because the Democrats controlled the legislature and state house, voters were allowed to cast their ballots up to 35 days before election day. The lines disappeared. Polling places were voter-friendly, with election workers giving voters clear directions on how to proceed.
Now the GOP is intent on ending all that. Ohio HB 194 slashes the timeframe for early in-person voting from 35 days to 16. The new law also prohibits Ohio’s 88 counties from mailing absentee ballots to all voters, or to pay the return postage. (In 2004, thousands of absentee ballots never made it to the county boards of elections because they had a pre-printed space for one stamp when they actually required two, and most voters only put on one stamp).
The HB 194 law also prohibits local board of elections officials from designing systems that best meet the needs of their community. For example, it forbids the county boards of elections from setting up off-site early voting locations. Banning voter-friendly practices such as pre-paid postage for absentee ballots and convenient places for citizens to vote, the law mandates practices design to lower turnouts as much as possible.
In perhaps the Bill’s most shocking provision, pollworkers are prohibited from helping voters find the right precinct line at the polling site. They are actually barred from answering questions or providing directions to voters.
In the 2004 election, then-Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio, directed that any voter in the right polling place but in the wrong precinct, could not have his or her vote counted. Prior to Blackwell, Ohioans would have had all of their votes counted in that case, except for the rare precinct-level vote which would usually be about alcohol sales.
Now the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio has written the legislature to ask: “Why else would we expend scarce taxpayer dollars on training and paying pollworkers? Ohio should not pass legislation that tells pollworkers not to do their job.”
HB 194 also overrides an the existing law---passed after the 2004 debacle---that required pollworkers to direct voters to the correct precinct. As the ACLU puts it: “Pollworkers will not be allowed to direct voters to the correct precinct or help them fill out forms correctly, both of which are required for a ballot to be counted. This will lead to more ballots that are not counted, and likely more lawsuits.”
The ACLU adds that HB 194 “…shifts responsibility for fair elections off of taxpayer-paid election officials whose job it is to administer elections, and on to the voters, who have a constitutional right to vote.”
The intent of Governor Kasich and the Republican-dominated legislature in Ohio is clear. Whatever minor detail they can find will be used to prevent Ohioans from voting. As the ACLU puts it, voters are "guilty until proven innocent, by assuming that all errors are voters' errors.”
In a separate bill---House Bill 159 (see Free Press Article) the Republicans will disenfranchise an estimated 900,000 Ohio voters, primarily Democrats, by requiring a photo ID to vote. Under the bill, an Ohio voter must produce either an Ohio driver's license, or an Ohio state ID card, military ID, or U.S. passport. IDs with photos and address provided by Ohio colleges or universities are prohibited as well as any ID provided by a county board of elections.
In a courageous move, Republican Secretary of State John Husted has come out against HB 159. In a speech to the League of Women Voters of Ohio, Husted said “I believe if you have a government-issued check, a utility bill in your name with your address on it, that no one made that up, they didn’t call AEP and establish utilities in their name to commit voter fraud. Let’s be clear about this. There are some other forms that are legitimate.”
The League of Women Voters, the American Association of Retired People of Ohio (AARP), Project Vote, and the ACLU all join Husted in opposing House Bill 159. But its passage seems all but assured.
And taken in tandem with HB 194 and the rest of the GOP assault on the ability of working Ohioans to vote, the day when Democrats had any chance of carrying any or all of swing state Ohio may be long gone.
It's tempting to think that presentation of a photo ID isn't all that much to ask, except that anyone who has ever spent the better part of the morning at a motor vehicle department knows how much time it can take to deal with officialdom. Students who must attend class and low-income workers who are paid by the hour, punch a time clock, and do not have the luxury of taking time off to stand in line waiting for a photo ID are going to be disproportionately affected by this new law -- and that's precisely the point. The low-income citizens of Ohio who cannot take time off work to get a photo ID, the elderly who are not able to stand for hours on end waiting for the gears of officialdom to grind out a photo ID -- these are voters who tend to vote Democratic. And of course that's precisely the point.
In the face of ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE that there is any kind of systemic problem with people who are ineligible to vote going to the polls, the Republicans are attempting to disenfranchise as many people as possible who might be unlikely to vote in their direction. They're doing it with onerous voting laws, they're doing it with redistricting, they're doing it any way they can. There won't be another Florida 2000 happening, because Republican governors are making damn sure that no vote will ever be close enough to warrant any scrutiny in the future.
Republicans know that they cannot win on ideas, because they have none, other than elminiating Social Security and Medicare, and cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans and corporations. So they're making sure that their policies don't hurt them at the ballot box by keeping away anyone who might dare question them.