Ohio’s Republican-run General Assembly has now passed three bills aimed at holding down voting by black or low-income Ohioans, a breathtaking bid to suppress voting despite constitutional guarantees of voting rights. Unwisely, Republican Gov. John Kasich has signed all of them into law.
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, Kasich’s likely Democratic opponent for governor in the fall, has already announced he intends — if he can get County Council’s support — to test one of the new laws, Substitute Senate Bill 205. It forbids anyone but the secretary of state’s office from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications.
FitzGerald may be posturing for his own political advantage, but the principle he’s trying to uphold is a good one. The county should have the right under Ohio’s constitutional home-rule guarantees to mail out unsolicited absentee ballot applications if it so chooses. Restricting the distribution of absentee ballot applications in such a sweeping manner also appears to raise federal constitutional questions.
While the office of Ohio’s chief election officer, Secretary of State Jon Husted, a suburban Dayton Republican, says it has the cash in the current budget to send absentee-ballot applications to all Ohio voters this year, that funding is not guaranteed in future years.
Husted, meanwhile, last week compounded the assault on voting rights by issuing flawed early-voting hours for Ohio elections that eliminate in-person voting on Sundays (Directive 2014-06). Sundays are a particularly popular time for early in-person voting among minority voters (whose votes tend to go to Democrats).
Husted said his directive incorporates recommendations by the bipartisan Ohio Association of Election Officials. Indeed, it does. But that doesn’t mean they are appropriate or fair — or that Republicans don’t have ulterior motives in pressing them.
Most critically, the directive on Sunday voting ignores “the needs of the large urban counties,” according to Hamilton County Democratic Chair Tim Burke, who is also a member of the Hamilton County Board of Elections.
Before discounting Burke’s criticism as special pleading by a Democrat, keep in mind the throngs of Ohioans, statewide, who voted on the Sunday before the 2012 presidential election. As The Plain Dealer reported at the time, “Early voters jammed county election boards across Ohio Sunday on the last weekend day before the election.” In Cleveland, the line of voters “stretched two blocks.”
Husted should reconsider.
As to the three laws on voting rights, all three were rammed through the Statehouse via brass-knuckled GOP partisanship, in one case by a relatively rare motion to guillotine House debate.
That bill, Amended Senate Bill 238, eliminates the “golden week” when Ohioans could register to vote and vote at the same time. On Feb. 21, Kasich signed it into law.
Protesting the House Republicans’ debate shutdown on S.B. 238, state Rep. Mike Foley, a Cleveland Democrat, outlined in the Ohio House Journal the “extraordinary consequences” S.B. 238 inflicts on Cuyahoga County: For the 2012 general election, Foley said, more than 45,000 Cuyahoga Countians voted early, in person, with 77 percent of them African-Americans. And African-Americans, Foley said, “were also almost 20 times more likely [to] use early, in-person, voting than white voters.”
Both S.B. 238 and S.B. 205 passed in party-line votes – all Republican legislators present voted “yes;” all Democrats voted “no.”
Genuinely fair legislation would have drawn support from General Assembly members of both parties.
A third Republican voting-suppression plan also just slipped into Ohio law: Substitute Senate Bill 216, sponsored by Sen. William Seitz, a suburban Cincinnati Republican. Kasich signed it into law Friday after the GOP-run Ohio House and state Senate gave their final approval to S.B. 216 Wednesday. The bill deals with “provisional voting” by Ohioans.
Ohioans can cast a provisional ballot if there’s a question about their voting eligibility. If eligibility is confirmed, the provisional ballot is counted.
State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Kent Democrat, warned the bill would let provisional votes be thrown out for “tiny, insignificant errors” by voters, Gongwer News Service reported — such as failing to check a new address check-box or forgetting to supply a ZIP code.
Voters are supposed to pick governments; governments aren’t supposed to pick voters. Ohio Republicans would have had no reason to pass these nakedly partisan measures if they were confident of their future and sure of their ideas. Obviously, they aren’t.