Friday, August 24, 2012

Voting in Ohio

A couple of days ago one witness after another testified that changes to Ohio voting procedures amounted to imposition of Jim Crow laws (laws meant to keep minorities from voting). What is going on?

Eight years ago voting on Ohio was limited to one day - election day. The only way around this was to use an absentee ballot and this required the voter to swear that he would be out of the state or otherwise physically unable to vote on election day. It is important to keep this in mind since this represents the base-line that was in effect for decades.

Because of the long lines in 2004, Ohio along with most other states changed its voting procedures. The new procedures allowed for early voting and for anyone to vote absentee. As originally implemented, the new procedures were exceptionally liberal. They allowed each county to set its own hours. There was an overlap between the voter registration cutoff and the beginning of early voting that allowed someone to register and vote in one operation and these ballots were mixed in with the others so there was no way to recall them if it turned out that the voter was ineligible.

Most of these procedures were set by Democrats who had taken over the state in the 2006 election. The Republicans won the 2010 election and made their own changes. This culminated with the changes that have caused so much controversy. One of these changes separated the end of the registration period and the beginning of early voting.

The changes that are most controversial involve standardization of early voting hours. Ohio's Secretary of State Jon Husted ruled that every county will have the same hours - 8-5 Monday through Friday and that early voting will end three days before election day. His reasoning is that many counties cannot afford the overtime expenses needed to support evening and weekend hours and that the entire state should be uniform. He also wanted to give enough time for the boards of election to notify precincts who had already voted so that people could not vote twice. In addition, he is mailing application for absentee ballots to every registered voter so that everyone can vote from home.

So why the firestorm? Because this interferes with many Democrat get-out-the-vote efforts. These centered around gathering large groups of people and busing them to the polls. Many of these were aimed at black congregations. the boards of election in heavily Democrat counties had aided this by setting early voting hours to be convenient for these drives. All of this is aimed at groups that are less likely to vote absentee.

So, what is fair? Are extended hours to accommodate get-out-the-vote drives when some counties fair when only some counties can afford to do this?

One gets the impression that most of the outrage about the change is for show. This is only the second presidential election that allows extended hours so no age-old traditions have been violated. Get-out-the-vote drives can still target at black congregations. Rather than bus people to the board of elections where they will have lines, they can fill out their absentee ballots as a group then mail them as a group.

The whole reason for the outrage is the knowledge that they are depending on voters who are not particularly motivated. They want the rules to favor their efforts. If that makes it more convenient to vote in Cleveland than a rural county, so much the better since the rural voters are more likely to vote Republican, anyway.

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