Voting Rights Under Threat in Ohio

Voting rights are under attack in the Buckeye State, again.

The Ohio General Assembly, similar to a number of state legislatures that have been buoyed by the Supreme Court Shelby decision, has already or is very likely to pass a quartet of voter restriction measures—Senate Bills 238, 216, 205 and 250. These bills will eliminate Ohio's Golden Week, a de facto Same-Day Registration period, reduce the state's early voting and mail voting periods, exacerbate the prospects of absentee and provisional ballots not being counted, and even restrict the degree of help voters can receive from poll workers in properly filling out paperwork. 

Ohio is not new to voter suppression. In fact, the swing state might be considered a vanguard, considering its calamities during recent election cycles. To wit: the provisions that are currently on the chopping block are the very reforms that 1) were enacted by the General Assembly after to combat the problems that rose in 2004; 2) aim to repeal measures, like Golden Week, that Ohioans have resolutely voiced their desire to keep; and 3) have no bearing on voter integrity/fraud prevention, because similar to every other state where the trope is deployed, voter fraud does not exist. Moreover, the legislative changes in question are antithetical to the recently released Presidential Commission on Election Administration report that highlights the need to make voting easier and more transparent.

One might ask: what's the true nature of proponents' fervor? Ohio State Representative Kathleen Clyde, in an interview on Hardball (around the 2:08 mark), gets to one reason:

The verdict has been in for a while now: 1) Americans prefer as simple a voting process as possible; 2) more people register and then vote when there are increased opportunities to do so; 3) reforms like SameDay Registration and early/mail/absentee voting speak most directly to 1) and 2); and 4) those who benefit most from these reforms include minority voters--those Sunday church-attending, bus-riding voters referred to in the video above. They might also, as examples, be bused in from adjoining states and/or paid in liquor to vote. Or, upon further description, these Ohio voters might even benefit from too many entitlements (read: Welfare, not tax breaks). The voter integrity myth invokes the same racial animus, though not as directly.

Senior Fellow Ian Haney López explains the subtext of this language in Dog Whistle Politics, describing it as "coded racial appeals that carefully manipulate hostilities towards nonwhites." What is taking place in Ohio represents a new iteration of time-tested practices, as these types of racial entreaties have been used in politics for years (e.g., the Southern Strategy). Its application, while straightforward, is nuanced: the perpetuator typically abhors the public deployment of racial profanity at one level, while invoking a publicly defensible racial discourse on another. Plausible deniability buffers users from reproach.

Ohio legislators should be ashamed of themselves for using any platitudes, especially racist straw man arguments, in service of their desire to disenfranchise voters. No legitimate case can be made for what is likely to take place today. It belittles Ohioans, and undermines the institution of voting as the bedrock of a true democracy. None of us should stand for it. 

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