Backfired! 4 Ways the Ohio GOP Tilts Voting Rules But Ends Up Helping Democrats
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Exhibit 4: Rig the Game
Even though the 2008 presidential election in Ohio was generally smooth, I knew that Ohio’s election processes, a mishmash of federal and “fixative” state overlays, could work better—for voters, poll workers and election officials. The day after that election, I informed tired reporters that the secretary of state’s office would convene a statewide summit, moderated by Larry Norden of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, to reach consensus across a broad spectrum of political and philosophical beliefs about what was right with and what could be improved in Ohio’s election process. It eventually resulted in bipartisan legislation that the Republican-controlled Senate refused to approve before it adjourned at the end of the 2010 session. The bill died.
The bill was resurrected in part but severely mutated in the Ohio legislature’s next session in 2011—the current election cycle—in the form of H.B. 194.
As with the aftermath of Ohio’s disastrous 2004 presidential election, voting rights advocates sprang up against H.B. 194, seemingly out of Ohio’s cornfields and urban alleys. Hence, Fair Elections Ohio (FEO) formed as a strong coalition of voting rights advocacy, labor, political and religious organizations to fight voter suppression in Ohio. With the help of President Obama’s campaign organization, Organizing for America, FEO successfully stopped the law from taking effect with a statewide referendum petition that has qualified for the ballot this fall.
With nearly 500,000 signatures collected for the effort, Ohio voters this fall have a chance to decide if they want H.B. 194 to become law; that is, if they want to make it harder to vote in Ohio and harder for their votes to be counted. My educated guess is that they will not. Can you see the backfire coming?
Here are a few things that H.B. 194 would do if permitted to become law:
- Reduce by mail absentee voting to three weeks from five weeks and reduce in-person absentee voting to two weeks.
- Ban in-person absentee voting on Sundays and Saturday afternoons.
- Ban in-person early voting during the last weekend before the election.
- Make it more difficult for the boards of elections to open extra offices in the community to make it more convenient to vote early.
- Stop local Election Boards from sending absentee ballot applications unsolicited to all voters.
- Stop local Elections Boards from paying postage on return absentee ballot requests or on the return of absentee ballots.
- Impose technical reasons not to count votes.
- Order a minimum voting precinct size in cities and villages only.
- Prohibit someone with no ID from having their ballot counted.
- Eliminate the 10-day period after the election to provide missing ID.
- Strike down disclosure rules for corporations participating in campaigns.
Now the GOP has realized that a referendum on voting rights on the presidential election ballot in Ohio this fall just might bring out voters who would be harmed by the voting law changes (who generally don’t vote as conservatives).
The GOP legislature appears to have been first prompted on this slight problem by the Republican secretary of state who asked for repeal of H.B. 194 after the referendum issue was certified for the ballot, to “avoid confusion” about voting rules this fall. That was the proverbial rope that loosed the anvil that fell on the heads of Ohio GOP legislators, who upon coming to, have slowly realized that, once again, their attempts to toy with voting rules -- you guessed it—backfired.
As I write this, the President of the Ohio Senate is offering a “peace pipe” to state Senate Democrats, who have already asked for a moratorium on any new voting laws before the general election this year. Legislative Republicans say they want to work with the legislature’s Democratic members to adopt new voting rules for the fall.