Last week, the Ohio House of Representatives pushed through two voter suppression bills, previously passed by the state Senate, that would reduce early voting and restrict absentee ballot access. Gov. John Kasich (R) signed the bills into law Friday night. Supporters claim the bills were necessary to prevent voter fraud and to save public resources. Reality says otherwise.
As has been found in other states, claims of voter fraud are largely baseless and almost certainly not widespread enough to affect the outcome of elections or warrant such restrictive bills that would prevent eligible voters from casting their ballot. AFL-CIO's Michael Gillis describes the situation in Ohio: "Voter fraud in Ohio has been found to be practically non-existent. Cases of voter fraud investigated represented less than five one-thousandths of 1 percent of the 5.6 million ballots cast in Ohio in the 2012 election. Even then, most of those cases were dismissed."
Gillis notes that the legislation will make it more difficult for students, seniors, people of color and other constituencies to vote. The Toledo Blade agreed with this assessment when it opposed the bills late last year:
But the bill is a solution in search of a problem, because the “evidence” advocates cite of voting irregularities is more anecdotal than systemic. Eliminating the dual activity will simply make it more cumbersome for new voters to exercise their franchise.
The "saving money" argument also fails to pass a basic logic test. Gillis continues:
And as for the “limited public resources” argument, can we no longer afford the most basic democratic functions of our government? The answer to this question should be obvious, if not to the Ohio GOP. One Republican legislator went as far as to say that opposition to these vote suppression bills is “intellectually lazy and highly offensive.” They pretend to be guardians of the ballot when indeed they are undermining the democratic process and are trampling on the most basic civil right we have as citizens.
The Ohio Voter Rights Coalition goes into greater detail with the flaws of these two bills in a letter that asked Kasich to veto the bills.
For many decades, women and [people of color] fought for the right to equally participate in the franchise. Ohio had been on the right path to continuing to provide access to fair elections. These bills are taking us in the wrong direction, yet you, Governor, can stand up for voters and for democracy by vetoing S.B. 205 and S.B. 238 to prevent the erection of barriers to the ballot box and more importantly the establishment of procedures that undoubtedly will cost qualified voters the right to have their votes counted. We hope we can count on your support to expand, rather than reduce, voter rights.
It's hard to imagine what Kasich's real motivations might be in preventing Democratic-leaning voters from casting their ballot. Gillis lays it out:
The irony that the first election that these laws will impact is the Governor’s re-election bid is not lost on Ohioans. A Quinnipiac poll this week showed Governor Kasich polling at just 43 percent and has been losing ground to his challenger, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald. Given his shriveling popularity in the state, will the governor have the political courage to stand up for the voting rights of those he intends to govern or will he cynically narrow voting rights in his own political interest? Ohioans are watching and so should all who are interested in a functional and unfettered democracy.
The new laws will be in effect before ballots begin being cast in the 2014 governor's race.