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Published: Saturday, 9/8/2012

COMMENTARY

Amid campaign wars, a call to respect the act of voting

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST

All's fair in love and war. And politics. Campaigns can be brutal. Negative, personal, below-the-belt attacks are common.

If you're willing to pay that price for power, go for it. Slam your opponent on the stump.

Annihilate him or her in harsh TV commercials. Move into swing states with a mission. Deluge battleground voters with political speeches, surrogates, billboards, yard signs, robocalls. Do whatever it takes to win.

But don't mess with my vote.

Don't invent reasons to restrict it. Don't erect hurdles to discourage it. Elections are not fair game for political engineering.

The one thing every adult American has, whether Mitt Romney rich or subsidized-housing poor, is the right to vote. One person, one vote. It still means something.

Casting a ballot gives registered voters an equal say in how their government works and who runs it. The more people embrace their civic duty to vote, the more representative their government.

That's the theory, anyway. The emphasis always has been on enabling full, unfettered voter engagement. Discouraging people from voting is counterproductive to the greater good. A vibrant democracy relies on robust input from as many citizens as possible.

Any step by government officials to impede voter participation by limiting access to the polls, or making voting conditional on approved identification or mistake-free ballot submissions, is an assault on us all.

Any action that adversely affects voter turnout, especially in certain quarters, could skew an election. Imposing bureaucratic barriers that depress the number of votes cast might be all it takes to win or lose.

Four years ago, presidential candidate Barack Obama won Ohio by 4.6 percentage points. Today, state polls put President Obama in a statistical tie with Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Every vote matters. But restrictive voting measures that predominantly target voters who lean one way are calculated to tip elections the other way.

That's rigging the results. That's messing with your vote. That's the plan in 2012, with a slew of Republican-backed election laws from Texas to Wisconsin. The point is to win the presidency and GOP control of Congress.

Pennsylvania Republicans passed one of the nation's strictest photo identification rules. Pennsylvania House Republican leader Mike Turzai gleefully predicted that the new requirement, now before the state's supreme court, "is going to allow Governor [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania -- done." In other key swing states, such as Ohio and Florida, Republicans also are scheming to win through a strategy of voter suppression.

Despite a string of legal setbacks from courts calling the party's bluff over preserving voter integrity, Republicans persist in a concerted campaign to outlaw hassle-free voting.

If disfranchised voters turn out to be disproportionately Democratic, break out the celebratory champagne. All's fair in Jim Crow electioneering, right?

Wrong. We've hit a new low with an old con.

Fortunately, justice prevails in Ohio. Two federal judges recently ruled against attempts by the Republican-led state government to impose arbitrary voting restrictions.

In one case, Ohio eliminated voting on the final weekend and Monday before Election Day, ostensibly to save money and prepare for the actual day to vote. More than 93,000 Ohio voters used those three days to vote in 2008.

In another case, the state said votes cast in the wrong precinct shouldn't count, even if the fault was with election workers in single polling places that serve several precincts. Four years ago, that caused 14,000 such votes to be thrown out.

The travesty of creating hoops for voters to jump through has been justified with hollow claims of election fraud. Even Pennsylvania had to concede in court that such fraud is virtually nonexistent.

Yet Republican leaders, including Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, won't let up. They're behaving as if the right of all citizens to vote, on equal terms and without unwarranted preconditions -- the bedrock of our democracy -- is up for grabs.

It is not. All may be fair in love and war and politics -- but don't mess with my vote.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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