A number of election bills, including one that would reduce early voting hours, have passed or are in process at the Ohio Statehouse. While not every bill is bad, the goal appears to be to shave off a few votes here and there to impact the outcome of statewide elections. The party in power is going for a victory of a hundred cuts rather than a single blow to the head as in last session’s failed HB 194. With the districts gerrymandered for predictable outcomes for nearly a decade, the attention shifts to rigging the voters for predictable statewide election outcomes in 2014.
Cuts to early voting days and hours are especially hurtful because students, minorities, low income, disabled, and elderly populations are most impacted. It is no coincidence that too many in these populations vote Democratic.
The latest cut to early voting is underway at the Statehouse. SB 238 (sponsored by Frank LaRose, R-Dist 27) eliminates the first week of early voting known as “Golden Week.” During this period citizens can register and vote at the same time. Golden Week was enacted in 2005 by a Republican controlled legislature in response to the long lines and election dysfunction of 2004.
So, when SB 238 passed through the Senate and into the House at lightning speed last week, it begged the question: Why the rush? According to the sponsor, “Same day registration and voting has created a situation where boards of elections do not have adequate time to properly verify a registration application.”
An examination of this statement shows multiple flaws in reasoning:
· Boards of Elections (BOEs) have had “adequate time” to deal with Golden Week since the law was changed in 2005 — ever since one could vote absentee with “no reason required;”
· BOEs must have ballots available 45 days before Election Day in order to comply with UOCAVA ballot requirements, so it is not an increased burden to have them available during Golden Week for all absentee voters;
· BOE offices must be open during regular hours 35 days before Election Day, so it is not a burden to accommodate the limited number of voters who show up to register and vote during Golden Week;
· BOEs must verify all voter registrations, including those that take place during Golden Week;
· No absentee ballots are counted until the voter registration is verified, including those ballots cast during Golden Week;
Legislators should check with their own BOEs about their Board’s procedures before voting on legislation that makes inaccurate assumptions about procedures.
The sponsor also brought up voter fraud, but moved quickly to abandon the argument. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Ohio and everyone knows it. Out of 5.6 million votes cast in 2012 only 13 cases of fraud were referred for prosecution; and there is absolutely no evidence that any of these 13 cases were perpetrated during Golden Week. The bill passed along party lines and awaits action in the House. The House will certainly concur and this bill will become law before the next snow flies.
SB 238 is rumored to be just the beginning to cuts to early voting in Ohio. The most prized target is the elimination of Saturday and Sunday voting.
Ohio is a purple state with a shifting electorate. Statewide victory at the polls can be less than 100,000 votes. A strategy dedicated to limiting ballot access is one worth pursuing.
There is one saving grace to restricting voter access: its potential to backfire. Much like the “Voter Fraud is a Felony” billboards in 2012, these restrictive actions may motivate and encourage people to vote, when they otherwise would have simply stayed home.
This post was authored by a voting rights activist and friend of the blog