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Bipartisan Voter Repression In Ohio Masquerades As Reform

Bob Fitrakis
March 18, 2013

A bipartisan Ohio election panel released its recommendations for “voting reforms.” An early indicator of how bad these “so-called” reforms came when Ohio’s controversial Secretary of State Jon Husted immediately endorsed the panel’s proposals.

“A lot of the reforms that are in there are things that I have long advocated for,” Husted said.

The Ohio Association of Election Officials responsible for the recommendations is comprised of equal totals of Democrats and Republicans, but they are 100% party regulars, causing some activists to refer to them as the Ohio Association of Political Hacks. Under Ohio law, the two major parties get to appoint the top election officials in the state’s 88 counties.

These party regulars agreed to eliminate Ohio’s “Golden Week” of voting. During that week, voters were both allowed to register to vote at the Board of Elections and also cast an early ballot on the same day. Apparently the efficiency of such a system that made it incredibly convenient for voters to participate in the democratic process had to go.

Now, voter registration will close the day before early voting begins. Despite the success of Wisconsin which allows same day registration and voting even on Election Day, Ohio has chosen to separate registration from voting, even though they would have been done at the same building.

The reason cited by the panelists for the ruling is that they wanted to remove all uncertainty from the registration and voting process. They added certainty by making it more difficult for Ohio voters to vote.

As the Ohio Association of Election Officials Executive Director Aaron Ockerman told the Columbus Dispatch, “Uncertainty is really, really, really bad for the elections process.”

In an attempt to squash uncertainty, the panel wants the voting hours to certainly be shorter. Instead of embracing Ohio’s successful 35-day early voting period inaugurated by reform-minded former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, the panel will now restrict early voting to two weeks.

The voting centers which Husted limited to one site per county, as contrasted with the five sites Brunner allowed in 2008, would only remain open on weekdays and only the two Saturdays before the election from 8am-2pm. In the 2012 presidential election, up to 5-hour lines existed at the sole early voting sites in Cleveland and Cincinnati.

The panel failed to grasp that far more people, many without transportation, live in cities as opposed to rural areas. So whether you’re Holmes County, Ohio with 11,000 voters or Cuyahoga County, Ohio with 1.3 million voters, the panel embraced the concept of equality – one early voting site per county.

Also, voting hours are limited on the two Sundays before the election, from 1-5pm. This was predictable since the black churches have been running massive and successful “souls to the polls” campaigns on the Sunday prior to Election Day. These large numbers of people voting while black have caused concern among the overwhelmingly white Ohio Republican Party, but white Democratic politicians in counties like Cuyahoga, Columbus, and Cincinnati. There has been a growing tendency, particularly in Cleveland, for black candidates who challenge the white Democrat-controlled counties to do well due to high black voter turnouts.

Another interesting reform requires that all voters will be mailed an absentee ballot and that voters will be responsible, as they always have been, for postage. What the panel failed to recommend is an ongoing problem with mailed absentee ballots where, for example, in Franklin County (Columbus, Ohio) absentee ballots that required two stamps only had one spot preprinted on the return envelope. In the 2008 election, the Free Press broke the story that there were 10,000 absentee ballots being held up for lack of postage.

An actual reform would have required county election officials to weigh the absentee ballot and envelope and put the proper postage spot preprinted on the envelopes.

The panel managed to ignore the most pressing voting problem in Ohio. In 2012, more than 1.1 million voters were purged from the voting rolls, with the vast majority coming from Ohio’s urban areas. In 2008, the figure was even higher at 1.25 million voters purged. In a computer era, in a state that requires various forms of ID at the polls, it makes no sense to purge voters.

So once again, voter repression masquerades as voting reform in Ohio. The Democrats capitulated to the racist and class-based voter suppression enthusiastically embraced by the Republican Party.