Ohio citizens have struggled to vote since 2005 when the ID requirements were added. We fundamentally changed the role of the Secretary of State in Ohio from a position of figuring out ways to encourage voting to a place of restricting access. We got "challengers" stationed at the precincts by the political parties to step forward and question the validity of voters. We confused the role of the workers at the polling places from helpers to enforcers. They were trained to be suspicious of all those who come in the door and ask them to prove who they were. Workers got into the level of detail to try to figure out why an address on an identification does not match the address in the polling book.
We did get the ability to ask for an absentee ballot without a reason. We also got extended time to vote by absentee ballot and the wonderful Golden Week. These were two improvements in the voting rights of Ohioans. While we were safeguarding in person voting, we were actually making it easier for cheaters to tampering with the voting process in Ohio. It is very difficult to vote multiple times in person. There is travel and memorizing information from all these different people throughout the city. It is unlikely that those who want to cast bogus ballots would pretend to be voters by traveling around the city. It is much more likely that a criminal would send in bogus absentee ballots which Ohio ironically made a lot easier since 2005.
We have also have made the federal and state judges the de-facto overseer of elections in Ohio. We have had so many challenges to the voting process in Ohio it is staggering. The legislature never goes back to work with both sides to fix the problems. They just keeping digging deeper holes. The State and Secretary of State has been challenged by students, older folks, homeless people, naturalized citizens, churches, minority groups, and good government groups. All this from changing the role of the Secretary of State's role to be gatekeeper instead of facilitator. They no longer work to encourage voting and get as many people as possible to vote to a new role as keeping people from voting and helping "the right" people to cast a ballot.
NEOCH has sued the State regularly since 2006 to preserve the right of homeless people to vote. We have largely been successful and have had regular consent decrees with the State of Ohio. We have lost a number of times, but we have had to spend hundreds of hours in court to assure that low income people do not face the humiliation of showing up to vote, being challenged, and having their vote not count.
Senator Sherrod Brown has asked the US Justice Department to intervene to protect Ohio voters. He has asked the DOJ to investigate as authorized by the Voting Rights Law.
"Ohio has a long history of election problems...While these changes have helped to increase turnout, in recent years there have been numerous attempts to limit access to the ballot."
We agree with everything in the letter and hope that the Justice Department takes up this investigation. We have created a page on our website to keep this letter. With the decision by the Justice Department to intervene on the criminalization in Boise Idaho, we are hopeful that the Loretta Lynch Justice Department will take a serious look at Ohio's efforts to restrict access to voting. We will keep you informed about the outcome.
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