Editorial Note: This blog post was written with the assistance of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.
Following similar voter suppression efforts in North Carolina, Wisconsin and elsewhere across the country, Ohio is among the latest states to take steps to restrict the right to vote. A handful of anti-voter election bills that passed the Ohio Senate in 2013 are currently expected to be considered by the House and could reach the Governor. The most troubling of the bills are two measures which would slash the state’s early voting period and restrict its absentee voting process. Together, the bills threaten to erase the vast improvements that the state made in the aftermath of its troubled 2004 elections, during which low-income and minority voters were disproportionately affected by problems at the polls.
Fortunately, the League of Women Voters of Ohio (LWVOH) and other state voting rights advocates are fighting the voter suppression measures. LWVOH has submitted extensive testimony to the Ohio Legislature calling for lawmakers to reject anti-voter bills and uphold access to early and absentee voting. In addition to shortening the period during which voters can provide the required documentation for provisional ballots, (PDF), these bills, if passed would also:
Ohio’s anti-voter bills are not an isolated case of voter suppression, but instead are part of a larger national trend toward restricting voters’ rights, particularly in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling gutting key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. LWVOH and their allies are joined in solidarity with League members working to protect voters’ rights across the country. But in addition to numerous attacks on voters’ rights, there have been some positive developments, including in New York and Florida, which both recently passed legislation to expand early voting. What’s more, alongside Ohio’s anti-voter legislation is a proposal that takes important steps to modernize voter registration – a positive move, though it fails to establish secure online registration (PDF). There’s also reason to be hopeful in Ohio, where the League has a track record of thwarting voter suppression efforts. In 2012, LWVOH helped lead a successful referendum campaign to defeat an omnibus voter suppression bill.
In Ohio, absentee and early voting have been extremely successful and are hugely popular among voters. We hope policymakers will use careful consideration and seek public input when considering these proposals. If this is done – in Ohio and elsewhere – policymakers will likely find that imposing harsh restrictions and cuts on absentee and early voting only hurt voters.
The League of Women Voters believes that the goal of any and all election reforms should be to increase turnout and draw more voters to the polls. It’s critical that our elections are free, fair and accessible, and we will continue join with League members across the country to protect the voting rights of all eligible voters by pushing back against Ohio’s – and any other state’s – voter suppression measures.