By Brian Davis
At the very end of the Ohio budgetary year, in a party line vote, the Ohio legislature passed a reform of voting law to prepare for the 2012 Presidential election. In the fall it is expected that a narrowing of the identification that will be accepted at the polling places will also be approved by the legislature. I have to wonder if the medicine that they are prescribing is worse than the problem that they are trying to cure. How many elderly, homeless, students and low-income individuals will find it harder to vote in order to address perceived voter fraud that no one can prove actually exists? Why are we limiting access to the ballot boxes with shorter early voting, potentially mandatory identification requirements, and handcuffing the ability for Boards of Elections to reach out to local voters?
We care about this issue because voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. Hundreds of thousands died so that we had the right to vote, and then thousands more died to get African Americans, women, those who cannot read, and those without land or money to have equal access to the polling place. Cincinnati legislator Bob Mecklenborg and other GOP leaders told the Plain Dealer earlier this year they believe voter fraud is going on unreported. Representative Mechlenborg said to the Plain Dealer, “I believe it happens, but it’s proving a negative. It is impossible to prove a negative.” It is amazing to me that Ohio legislators are passing legislation over perceived fraud in voting, but were never willing to pass laws to stop real fraud in the mortgage industry. Election experts testified that there is very little proof of any fraud within the system during State House hearings. Most of the fraud occurs in the registration process and submission of multiple votes by mail.
I have to wonder if these same legislators would object if the federal government passed a law that Censes workers could search the bedrooms of residents of Ohio to assure that everyone was counted in the constitutionally mandated Census. There is no doubt that many people did not answer the Census, but the harm caused by invading people’s privacy is not worth the additional data collected.
There is no provision in the law or additional resources to verify the registration is accurate and not a duplicate registration. There is no requirement that every registration is checked against death records and that every social security number is verified. This is the point at which fraud occurs. The law that was passed and the one that was proposed only suppress votes from minority and impoverished communities. It is a cynical attempt to keep down turnout for a population that traditionally votes for Democrats.
The problem is that not all minority members are Democrats; not all poor people are Democrats, and certainly not all elderly are Democrates. This type of voter suppression game is what turns off voters and makes citizens skeptical that government has any ability to do anything. An elderly Reagan Republican grandfather who voted in the same location for the past 30 years and no longer drives but in 2012 will have to show a state ID or vote with a provisional ballot will understand that this has nothing to do with fraud or security. The Ken Blackwell African American churchgoer from the East Side of Cleveland who took buses and vans down to the Board of Elections after services to cast a historical vote for the first major party African American for President in 2008 will understand that they will no longer be able to vote on Sunday in 2012.
Efforts to suppress voters in the United States will backfire. This will only lead to resentment and hostility toward government. We need to make sure that real fraud is minimized, but our legislators should be working toward universal participation in the electoral process.
Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and The Street Chronicle published June 2011 Cleveland, Ohio