Two of the most egregious examples of the new subtle forms of voter suppression are occurring in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Republican-leaning suburbs of Cincinnati like Butler and Warren counties are allowing extended voting in the evenings and on weekends beginning in October, but the largely Democratic Hamilton County, which contains the city of Cincinnati, is not being allowed these same extended hours. Republicans on the county election board plan to end early voting in Cincinnati at 5 p.m. and ban it altogether on weekends.
All across the state of Ohio the GOP is rigging the system to give traditionally Republican areas more opportunities to vote and give urban and traditionally Democratic areas less time to vote. According to WKRC in Cincinnati, “each of Ohio’s 88 counties has a Board of Elections which decides on hours. If you look at the map—the red counties, mostly rural, suburban and Republican, have extended hours. But the blue Democratic counties have had their early voting hours rejected by Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, who broke 2-2 ties on local boards.”
“I cannot create unequal access from one county board to another, and I must also keep in mind the resources available to each county,” Husted said recently in a letter to the Franklin County board.
But the reality is that instead of having a general philosophy of extending voting hours for everyone or curtaining it for everyone, the Republicans are joining their Democratic colleagues in saying yes to extended hours in GOP-leaning areas, but voting no in Democratic-leaning areas. And Husted always sides with the GOP when there is a 2-2 tie, thereby giving the GOP the advantage. This sounds very much like manipulating the electoral system in a sleazy attempt to block the voting rights of people who are more likely to cast their ballots for a different party. Even the rationale of citing budget constraints and claiming these counties are struggling financially and can’t afford the longer hours sounds cynical and disingenuous.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, they are using a slightly different playbook but with the same goal in mind.
On Aug. 15 Pennsylvania Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson refused to grant a preliminary injunction that would have stopped the strict new law from taking effect that will require PA voters to show a photo ID with an expiration date in order to vote. Under the old law, only a person voting for the first time in a given precinct was required to show ID, and that could include non photo IDs like a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or government check. Also under the old law the ID could be one without an expiration date such as a student or employee photo badge.
The practical effect of the new law, which was introduced by Republicans and passed 104-88 in the state House along party lines, is to make it more difficult for people to vote who don’t have ready access to a government issued photo ID with an expiration date on it, the most common of which would be a driver’s license. The GOP gives us a song-and-dance routine about this law being necessary to combat voting fraud from fictitious voters, illegal immigrants and voter impersonators. But the fact is the law is designed to have the greatest impact on the elderly, college students, minorities, the poor and urban dwellers who use public transportation. A majority of these voters are Democratic or Democratic-leaning.
According to politicspa.com, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai smugly boasted in a speech to a GOP audience that voter ID, “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” He made no effort to disguise the real political motive behind this unnecessary law.
The bipartisan County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania said systems are already in place to prevent duplicate or erroneous registration. The association also warned that the new voter ID law will lengthen Election Day lines at polling places, create voter confusion, be an additional burden to often untrained poll workers, and still provide no extra security for ballots.
The United States extols the virtues of freedom and democracy, and the world often looks to the United States for guidance on economic, political, business and scientific matters. But if other nations examine what Ohio, Pennsylvania and several other states are doing to undermine the democratic process, they might be better served to look elsewhere for the beacon of light on a hill.
Pennsylvania Department of State, Pennsylvania Senate, House Bill 934