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.”