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Voting Rights Activists Fight Back Against New Republican Jim Crow Attack In Ohio

By Richard James
July 19, 2011

Another progressive coalition is seeking to repeal a new reactionary Republican election law in Ohio

The unions are once again the backbone of a campaign joined by various voting rights advocates to repeal Ohio House Bill 194, signed into law on July 5, 2011. The repeal coalition calls itself “Fair Election Ohio” and submitted the required 1000 signatures necessary for starting the repeal process on July 18.

Under Ohio law, approximately 232,000 valid voter signatures are needed to put a repeal issue on the ballot. A similar coalition gathered more than 800,000 valid signatures to repeal Ohio’s anti-union Senate Bill 5. The Fair Election Ohio coalition is awaiting certification of its petition language by the current secretary of state. If certified, it has until September 30, 2011 to gather the additional 231,000 signatures to put the repeal on the ballot in 2012. Valid signatures by September 30 will put the law on hold until after the 2012 presidential election, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is spearheading the drive. She argues that HB 194 “makes it harder to vote” and even when you vote, she insists it makes it “harder to have your vote counted.”

The petition targets the most egregious provisions of the law, among them:

• A provision of the bill requires that cities must have precincts with a minimum of 500 registered voters. This provision does not apply to rural areas.

• Pollworkers are prohibited from telling voters if they are in the wrong precinct.

• The bill includes a new definition of the term “corporations” in regards to political contributions. Brunner argues that the bill will weaken regulations requiring corporations to report donations in Ohio.

• The bill has several “gotcha” provisions that will allow Republicans to toss out provisional ballots that have minor problems. Provisional ballots are overwhelmingly cast in Ohio’s urban centers by poor and minority voters.

• The bill also contains measures aimed at eliminating Ohio’s minor parties.

In 2006, the Libertarian Party of Ohio won a lawsuit against then-Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell about the difficulties of minor parties getting on the ballot in Ohio. The new law sets the deadline to file candidate petitions for minor parties in early February. The U.S. Supreme Court had previously declared that early deadline for third parties in Ohio as “unreasonably early.”

Minor parties are awaiting the ruling by current Ohio Secretary of State John Husted on whether the existing third parties – Constitution, Green, Libertarian and Socialist – will be placed on the 2012 ballot or removed. In a similar situation in both 1970 and 1972, then Ohio Secretary of State Ted Brown grandfathered the existing minor parties onto the ballot.

State rep Ann Gonzales wrote that she “wholeheartedly supports this bill.” She alleges “The reforms will streamline the election experience, address incidences of fraud, and increases the use of technology in elections” Ironically, there was only one incident of voter fraud officially reported in recent Ohio elections, however there are have been numerous allegations of election fraud through the use of private proprietary election hardware and software.

A recent King Lincoln vs. Blackwell filing concerning the 2004 Ohio presidential election outlines shocking factual allegations about Ohio’s outsourcing of its vote count in 2004 to a private company, SmartTech, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

As Brunner points out, the new law would allow election officials to use voters’ Social Security number to purge voters from the voting rolls. Under the bill, state election officials, or the private vendors they contract with, are authorized to take driver’s license or state ID information and the last four digits of Social Security numbers and compare it to other private information databases and other private or government databases. If there are discrepancies in the data, voters may be purged from the voting rolls, even if it’s clear that more current information is correct.

One positive aspect of the bill is that it does allow voters to change their registration online.

In a victory for voting rights activists, the bill failed to include the draconian restrictions favored by the vast majority of the Republican Party. The intervention of Republican Secretary of State Husted aided in killing the most restrictive photo ID proposal in the nation.

In the aftermath of SB5, a key provision in the law limits the time allowed to gather signatures for statewide petition drives, like the one against HB 194.

For more information and to get involved in the fight against HB 194, contact ProgressOhio, 172 E. State St., Columbus, OH 43215, 614-441-0144, info@progressohio.org.