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“An Affront To Democracy In Ohio”: It Appears Ohio Republicans Didn’t Get The Message

About a month ago, President Obama’s non-partisan commission on voting issued a detailed report, urging state and local election officials to make it easier for Americans to access their own democracy.

It appears Ohio Republicans didn’t get the message. Zachary Roth reports:

On party lines, the [Ohio state] House voted 59-37 to approve a GOP bill that would cut six days from the state’s early voting period. More importantly, it would end the so-called “Golden Week,” when Ohioans can register and vote on the same day. Same-day registration is among the most effective ways for bringing new voters into the process, election experts say.

The House also voted by 60-38 to approve a bill that would effectively end the state’s successful program of mailing absentee ballots to all registered voters. Under the bill, the secretary of state would need approval from lawmakers to mail absentee ballots, and individual counties could not do so at all. Nearly 1.3 million Ohioans voted absentee in 2012. The bill also would make it easier to reject absentee ballots for missing information.

The Senate quickly approved minor changes to both bills and sent them to the desk of Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, who is expected to sign them.

At the same time, Ohio Democrats spearheaded a new “Voters’ Bill of Rights,” intended to expand early voting and make it harder to disqualify ballots, among other things. Proponents hoped to put the measure on the ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment, but state Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) announced this week that he’s blocking the effort, citing what he called “misrepresentations” in the text of the proposed amendment.

In an editorial  published before yesterday’s votes in the legislature, the Cleveland Plain Dealer argued, “Ohio House Republicans appear poised to pass two measures that, disguises aside, aim to limit voting by Ohioans who might vote for Democrats. That’s not just political hardball. It’s an affront to democracy. Voting is supposed to be about holding elected officials accountable. They won’t be, though, if those same officials massage Ohio law to, in effect, pick their own voters.”

In the larger context, let’s not forget Ohio’s recent history. A decade ago, during the 2004 elections, the state struggled badly with long voting lines, so state policymakers decided to make things better. And in 2008, Ohio’s voting system worked quite well and voters enjoyed a much smoother process.

So smooth, in fact, that Ohio Republicans have worked in recent years to reverse the progress. I’m reminded of Rachel’s segment from Nov. 20 of last year.

“[T]his is not a hypothetical thing in Ohio. The state has a really recent history of it being terribly difficult to vote in heavily populated, especially Democratic-leaning parts of the state. It was really bad in ‘04, and they fixed that problem by making changes like expanding early voting so the lines wouldn’t be so long on Election Day. About a third of Ohio voted early last year. It is much easier to do that.

“And the fact that so many people like early voting and are thereby finding their ways to the polls, that, of course, is a problem for Ohio Republicans. And so, Ohio Republicans moved to break that system again, to go back to the old broken system that didn’t work before. Today, Ohio Republicans voted to cut back early voting by six full days in Ohio. They’re also voting to end same day voter registration, to make it harder to get your vote counted if you have to cast a provisional ballot, and they’re considering cutting back on the number of voting machines at the polls.

“Yes, we’ve always had way too many of those. Your state government at work, Ohio. You’re hoping that your local state legislator would go to Columbus and start working overtly to make the process of voting a lot harder and a lot slower for you? Congratulations, if you voted for a Republican, you got what you paid for.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 20, 2014

February 21, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Great Day For Democracy”: Federal Judge Upholds Early Voting Rights For All Citizens

A federal judge has ordered Ohio to restore in-person voting rights on the weekend before election day, in the second major victory for voting rights advocates in two days.

In July, the Obama campaign filed a lawsuit stating that Ohio’s new election law “arbitrarily eliminates early voting during the three days prior to Election Day for most Ohio voters, a right previously available to all Ohio voters.” The recently enacted law gave preferential treatment to members of the military, who were allowed to vote at a board of elections up through the Monday before Election Day, while civilians had an earlier voting deadline of 6 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day.

The Obama campaign argued that the law was politically motivated and designed to suppress Democratic voters, who are most likely to utilize early-voting options. Additionally, the campaign disputed the legality of instituting unequal voting rights for UOCAVA (“Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act) and non-UOCAVA voters.

In his opinion, Judge Peter C. Economus agreed with the Obama campaign’s complaint.

“A citizen has a constitutionally protected right to participate in elections on an equal basis with other citizens in the jurisdiction.” Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330, 336 (1972). In Ohio, that right to participate equally has been abridged by Ohio Revised Code ‘ 3509.03 and the Ohio Secretary of State’s further interpretation of that statute with regard to in-person early voting. In 2005, Ohio expanded participation in absentee balloting and in-person early voting to include all registered Ohio voters. Now, “in-person early voting” has been redefined by the Ohio legislature to limit Plaintiffs’ access to the polls. This Court must determine whether preliminary injunctive relief should be granted to Plaintiffs on their claim that Ohio’s restriction of in-person early voting deprives them of their fundamental right to vote. Following Supreme Court precedent, this Court concludes that Plaintiffs have stated a constitutional claim that is likely to succeed on the merits. As a result—and as explained below—this Court grants Plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction.

Just hours after the decision, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced that he will appeal to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. As election law expert Rick Hasen notes, the Sixth Circuit has been “bitterly divided in election law disputes in the past”, and the case “could get very ugly very quickly.” So while the Obama campaign won a victory today, the battle for voting rights in Ohio is far from over.

 

By: Axel Tonconogy, The National Memo, August 31, 2012

September 1, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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