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Tuesday, October 21, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 3/8/2014

COMMENTARY

Why Ohio’s GOP is strangling voters’ access to the polls

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST
Johanek Johanek
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Voter fraud is minuscule. No massive voting irregularities have been uncovered in Ohio. Ballot stuffing, perpetrated by individuals who scheme to skew elections in the state, is a myth.

So the new Republican-backed voting restrictions adopted recently in Ohio are not really about preventing deceit at the polls. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted launched a comprehensive investigation of voting in the state after the last presidential election in 2012. It produced almost no evidence of voting irregularities worthy of prosecution.

Out of more than 5.5 million Ohio votes cast in November, 2012, just 135 were referred to law enforcement agencies for review. Mr. Husted, a Republican, concluded that while voter fraud exists, “it’s not an epidemic.”

So if large-scale voter fraud is virtually nonexistent in Ohio, we can rule out aggressive policing as the motivation behind GOP efforts to chip away at established voting practices in the state.

Another reason GOP leaders cite for embarking on a crusade against easy and accessible voting is uniformity. Good election policy for sparsely populated rural areas should be good for dense urban areas as well, the party says.

But every community is not the same. Voting accommodations for a metropolis with diverse demographics and a sizable minority population are vastly different from election protocols sufficient to serve one-traffic-light villages in homogeneous farming communities. Imposing uniform voting policy, including identical poll hours and openings in the most and least populous counties in Ohio, ignores voting realities.

Republicans have framed their campaign for a uniform voting schedule as a corrective move to ensure equal voting opportunities in all 88 counties. But it’s a fallacy, just as voter fraud is a fable. Republicans, who control all branches of state government in Ohio, had to manufacture justification for restrictive voting laws where none were necessary.

Still another defense offered for GOP measures that make voting more difficult for some Ohioans is expense. Counties have to trim costs and streamline election administration in fiscally trying times.

Certainly counties, which cover the bill for boards of elections to pay poll workers and operate voting equipment, are under pressure to be frugal. Several have moved to restrict when and where people can vote. But requiring every county to comply with the same across-the-board prohibitions to save money denies local governments autonomy.

A county that is willing and able to mail absentee ballots to all registered voters ought to be allowed that option. It’s a community service that encourages civic responsibility by making voting convenient and hassle-free.

The job of elected officials is to expand access to the ballot box, to make it easier for more citizens to exercise their right to vote. Higher voter participation helps promote a more representative and healthier democracy.

If we rule out cost-cutting, uniformity, and fraud as legitimate excuses to restrict the voting process in Ohio, what other explanations make sense? Why else would Republican lawmakers pass bills, signed into law by Republican Gov. John Kasich, that erect voting hurdles for Ohioans?

Why curtail early voting, regulate the mailing of absentee-ballot applications, and make provisional ballots harder to count? Why add to voting changes — as Secretary Husted did — by slashing evening and Sunday hours for early in-person voting?

He tried that in 2012, but a federal judge saw through his ruse. Ohio is a key swing state in presidential elections.

If Republicans could change the rules and limit access to a select bloc of voters, the outcome might change on Election Day. Sunday voting just ahead of the general election is widely popular with many black churches in urban centers.

Worshippers organize “souls to the polls” caravans after religious services. But if expanding access to the ballot box allows an influx of left-leaning voters to defeat right-leaning candidates, what’s the GOP to do?

Concoct a myth as cover for voter suppression. That’s what.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact Blade columnist Marilou Johanek at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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