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August 20, 2012 3:41 PM Race, Party and Early Voting in Ohio

By Ed Kilgore

As one might expect, The Nation’s Ari Berman has a very lucid explanation up today of the maneuvering over early voting in Ohio, a state where so far Republicans are more or less getting their way. As Ari explains, Ohio Secretary of State John Husted initially tried to restrict early voting hours just in Democratic counties, but then took the logical fallback position:

In response to the public outcry, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who intervened in favor of limiting early voting hours in Democratic counties, issued a statewide directive mandating uniform early voting hours in all eighty-eight Ohio counties. Husted kept early voting hours from 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays from October 2 to 19 and broadened hours from 8 am to 7 pm from October 22 to November 2. But he refused to expand early voting hours beyond 7 pm during the week, on weekends or three days prior to the election (which is being challenged in court by the Obama campaign)—when it is most convenient for many working Ohioans to vote. Rather than expanding early voting hours across the state, Husted limited them for everybody. Voter suppression for all!

But the “equal” cutbacks on night and weekend voting in the period just prior to the election will not, of course, have an equal effect:

Cutbacks to early voting disproportionately disenfranchise African-American voters in Ohio. African-Americans comprise 21 percent of the population in Franklin and Montgomery counties and 28 percent in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County but accounted for 31 percent, 52 percent and 56 percent of early voters in the respective counties in 2008. (Eighty-two percent of those who voted early in Franklin County in 2008 did so on nights or weekends.)

Now it’ll be harder for voters across Ohio, particularly in the most populous, heavily Democratic cities, to find a convenient time to vote before Election Day in order to avoid the long lines that plagued the state in 2004 and may have cost John Kerry the election. “In the hours and days now eliminated by legislative and Sec. of State restrictions, an estimated 197,000 Early In-Person votes were cast, constituting about 3.4% of all votes cast statewide in 2008,” according to a new report by Norman Robbins, research director for Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates. “This is very significant in Ohio where major elections have often been decided by a 2% margin of victory.”

As Ari tartly notes, all this latter-day concern that early voting opportunities will somehow increase the risk of “voter fraud” is a complete crock; GOP officials avidly supported “convenience voting” back when it was utilized more frequently by reliable Republican voters. The honest rationale was publicly offered in Ohio just yesterday:

Franklin County (Columbus) GOP Chair Doug Preisse gave a surprisingly blunt answer to the Columbus Dispatch on Sunday: “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine.” Preisse is not some rogue operative but the chairman of the Republican Party in Ohio’s second-largest county and a close adviser to Ohio Governor John Kasich.

This “blunt answer” isn’t just a reflection of naked partisanship, though it is that. It also reflects the alarmingly common belief of today’s (like the day before yesterday’s) conservative pols that African-Americans, being the subjects of a corrupt Democratic political machine (or as Allen West likes to call it, a “plantation”), aren’t really exercising free agency when they vote, and thus really don’t deserve to have the right to vote (for those conservatives who even accept that concept) protected with any rigor.

Add into that rationalization the amazingly powerful right-wing backlash against any characterization of their tactics as bearing the aroma of racism—they’re principled color-blind ideologues!—and you can understand how the national GOP is brazenly embracing voter-suppresion tactics that used to be the prerogative of Dixiecrats.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Peter C on August 20, 2012 3:56 PM:

    Ah, early voting, but only during working hours. Nice.

    If we really valued voting, then election day would be a nationwide holiday.

  • Old Uncle Dave on August 20, 2012 3:56 PM:

    What he really wants is to have no voting at all in Democratic counties.

  • c u n d gulag on August 20, 2012 4:48 PM:

    We are now little better than the USSR, Iraq, and many 3rd World Banana Republics.

    Somewhere, the Communists and Fascists and other fakers of democracy are laughing.

    We are becoming what we once feared.
    And, isn't that usually the case?

    Can you imagine the outrage if, in the 1970's or 1980's someone from South Africa, one of the leaders of the country, said what GOP Chair Doug Preisse said?
    HOLY SMOKES, BULLWINKLE!
    We'd have had embargo's up the yazoo!

    And now, the old white men who supported apartheid for all of those decades, are thinking, "Where were you motherfecker's back then?"

    Yes, nice job, GOP!
    The ends justify the means.
    Just like Jesus said in his "Sermon to the shareholders of The Mount Bank:
    A poor person had a better chance of passing through the eye of a camel, than a poor person, especially a black one, gets to vote to decide his/her fate on the Earth.
    But why should I give a sh*t?
    I'll have all the white people I'll ever need in Heaven!
    After all, they're the only ones deserving of it."


    Remember that?
    Neither do I...

  • Bobby Goren on August 20, 2012 4:49 PM:

    I've got to believe that Mr. Preisse's admission raises significant Voting Rights Act concerns.

    Where's the Justice Department?

  • JM917 on August 20, 2012 5:04 PM:

    I really do expect that state-level Republicans are going to start amending their state constitutions--this, not mere legislative fiat, is what it would take--to reestablish various kinds of property requirements for voting. For example, voting could be limited to persons who own a prescribed level of property, or pay a prescribed level of real estate taxes or rental, or are not receiving certain "welfare," unemployment, or education benefits. (Surely they wouldn't want to ban voting by Medicare/Medicaid beneficiaries, by retirees on Social Security, by farmers collecting government subsidies, or other by other groups that are part of the Republican base.)

    State-level right-wingers could also try to ensure (again by state constitutional amendments) that recently naturalized citizens are barred from voting for a period of, say, ten years.

    The argument would be that no one should have the right to vote who doesn't "have a stake" in society or who is a "government dependent." Plenty of eighteenth-century political theory could be resurrected by conservative ideologues to justify such a course of action.

    Red state voters wouldn't need much persuasion to persuade them to approve such changes to state constitutions.

    Short of enacting a new federal constitutional amendment banning property or length-of-citizenship-status requirements for voting, there wouldn't be much that the federal government or the federal courts could do to stop such regression. State-level changes would only have to ensure that there was no discrimination according to gender, race, creed, or over-18 age. And of course Republicans in Congress would use every filibustering and procedural trick to block passage of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing universal suffrage free of property or residency requirements.

    This is certainly the track we're on if Republican voter-suppression efforts aren't reversed--and soon.

  • exlibra on August 20, 2012 11:48 PM:

    We are now little better than the USSR,[...] -- c u n d gulag, @4:48 PM

    That's where you're wrong :) Despite a system where (as my Mother told me on my 18th birthday) one could vote, but not elect, voting was not only encouraged, but positively forced on one, at least in the satellite countries like Poland (and, I expect, in the USSR itself).

    Voting was (and still is) on Sunday, so that it was convenient for everyone (except the ultra-religious). About two hours before the polls closed, if you had not yet voted, someone would show up at your doorstep, offering to: babysit your children, cook your dinner, take you to the polls and back (even though poll stations were never more than a couple of blocks from where you lived)... Whatever it took to free you to do your citizen duty, they promised to do, because they wanted to show the world that they had maximum participation (see, we are, too, democratic!).

    Now... What happened to your vote once you were ticked off in a poll book as having voted... That's a whole different pot of chai :) That's why I worry as much about (quietly) "fixed" voting machines as I do about the open suppression such as is happening in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida. What's in the open can be fought; what's hidden... not so much.

    Craptcha is blind drunk. It's undecipherable not only in the unimportant part, but in the necessary one, too.

  • schtick on August 21, 2012 1:20 AM:

    I understood the reasoning behind getting machines that could be hacked and "fixed" for voting. Dubya was going to lose the vote in Fla with those flaky chads and they had to make sure that didn't happen again, but they found that now they need to suppress the vote to win.
    I don't know why anyone is suprised. The tealiban is not elected to represent their districts, but the money that fills their pockets.

  • sceptic on August 21, 2012 9:25 AM:

    I have to agree with the Republicans that their efforts to inhibit voting in African-American areas is not racist. It's not that they want to limit voting in those areas because those people are black, but because they suspect they will vote Democratic. If they could count on those people to vote Republican, they would be expanding their voting opportunities, regardless of their race.