By Brett Pransky
In any responsible study of American history, we find ourselves inspired by the heroism and goodness of generations past, but also at times ashamed of acts, policies, and laws that we now understand to be oppressive or unfair. As time passes, we identify and then move away from repression and disenfranchisement and move toward equality and fair treatment for all. This progress is perhaps best demonstrated by our right to vote. At one time, only white male landowners could vote. Now, everyone enjoys that right …for the moment, at least.
In recent months, under a smokescreen of voter fraud allegations, Ohio legislators have been attempting o turn back the clock on Ohio’s voting practices with a series of proposed new laws. The proposed legislation would severely restrict early voting, add technicalities that are intended to invalidate thousands of presently legal votes, and for a final, we get House Bill 159 – a voter ID measure designed to keep as many as 900,000 Ohio voters away from the polls. Editor’s Note: Voting reform was passed and signed into law, but the ID provisions were pulled and will be voted on in the fall of 2011.
The voter ID bill requires a picture ID at the polls. Right now, registered voters can vote using many different kinds of proof of residence. Many vote using utility bills to establish residence. Many voters also take advantage of the current 35 day early voting period; if the new bills pass, those days could be trimmed to as few as six, though recent negotiations put the new number at about 16, which is still less than half o=the number of days currently allowed.
When the creators of the legislation were asked to provide evidence of the kind of voter fraud they are trying to stop, no examples were given; however HB 159 sponsors and states Rep. Bob Mecklenborg ( R ) responded by saying “I believe it happens,” and “it’s impossible o prove (That it doesn’t happen).” Needless to say, the bills’ opponents have been less than impressed with Meckleborg’s undying faith in the existence of a fictional epidemic of voter fraud, and do not find any comfort in his inability “to prove a negative.” However, it appears that the specter of fraud and a bit of faulty logic is all we really need to create law in Ohio, so the bills stand a very good chance of becoming the law of the land.
However, the real danger of these proposals is not the required photo ID card or the inconvenience brought about by the lack of early voting. The real crime is what’s behind the proposals. The real crime lies not in the text, nor in the political power wrangling that motivates people to pursue these kinds of sill laws; it is in what happens to those who don’t get to vote because those in power want to keep votes from going to their opposition. This has nothing to do with voter fraud. This is about power and how it can be maintained, and the proof of this is in the numbers.
Roughly 11% of US citizens (about 30 million people) do not have a government issued photo ID. While estimates in Ohio vary a bit, most put the number of registered voters likely to be without a photo ID about 887,000. The groups most likely to be without a photo ID include racial minorities (including 255 of African Americans nationwide), students, the working poor (15% of voters with income lower that $35,000/year), large numbers of elderly people (18% of voters over he age of 65 nationwide), and the homeless. The writers and sponsors of this proposed legislation are certainly aware of these numbers, and of the group most likely to be negatively affected by their proposals. All the spooky “voter fraud” talk in the world isn’t going to hide the fact that certain people in power simply don’t want these groups to vote. It’s a poll tax, ladies and gentlemen, and Jim Crow has officially arrived in Columbus.
For many, and certainly for Ohio’s homeless population, the combination of fewer early voting days and the addition of a required photo ID card would make the voting process significantly more difficult than ever before. While shelter staff and concerned citizen volunteers used to have 35 days to gather people together and help them get to the polls, now they are faced with the possibility of as few as six or sixteen days of early voting, making that task much more difficult. And not, if the new voter ID legislation passes (and it has already passed the House) those who advocate for the and assist Ohio’s poorest citizens (and also its elderly population) will have to find a way to deal with another step in the process, and they’ll have to-do twice as much in less than half the number of days.
Perhaps the most accurate way to assess the value of proposals like these is to imagine them at their best, and at their worst. These laws, show they become laws, are at their very best a way to solve a problem than the simply don’t have in the first place. There simply don’t have in the first place. There is little to no evidence that the problem actually exists, or will exist. However, at their worst, these laws are painstakingly designed to limit a voting rights of a very specific and carefully chosen subset of the voting public by making money and mobility perquisites for citizenship. They are meant to further silence people who are already shouted down time and again by power and privilege. They turn poor and elderly people into quiet people, and they turn the homeless into the voiceless. Given these options, the voters restrictions proposed are either useless, discretionary, or both. That leaves us with a serious and immediate question for our state representatives, particularly for those show support or sponsor these bills. Why are you pushing so hard to make them laws? Who are you afraid of?
Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and The Street Chronicle published June 2011 Cleveland, Ohio