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Schultz: Ohio GOP attempts to fix elections, not voting

Published: Friday, March 14, 2014 12:33 a.m. CDT

The question is simple:

Why, with no proof of widespread voter fraud, would you want to make it harder for entire groups of Americans – mostly black, low-income, female and elderly – to cast their ballots?

The answer is just as simple: It’s the only way you think your side can win.

It’s as pathetic as it is horrifying, and it’s happening where I live, in the battleground state of Ohio, which every Republican presidential candidate has to win to make it to the White House.

It is so obvious what’s going on here. Ohio Republicans – led by Secretary of State Jon Husted and Gov. John Kasich – have swept in a new round of restrictions meant to whittle away the rights of fellow citizens least likely to vote for them.

Six days of early voting: Gone.

Same-day voter registration: Gone.

Sunday voting and “Souls to the Polls” black-church drives: Gone.

Republicans also have made it harder for Ohioans to vote by absentee ballot. Provisional balloting is almost as much of a gamble as the state lottery.

Husted, in an attempt to defend the indefensible, said his record as secretary of state is “a balance between making it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

How Husted loves to portray himself as the guy on the white horse rescuing us from a crime that doesn’t exist.

Lest you think I’m just succumbing to my liberal fondness for black, low-income, female and elderly voters, I offer this excerpt from The Plain Dealer’s editorial board; the Cleveland newspaper endorsed Kasich and Husted in 2010:

“Ohio’s Republican-run General Assembly has now passed three bills aimed at holding down voting by black or low-income Ohioans, a breathtaking bid to suppress voting despite constitutional guarantees of voting rights.

Unwisely, Republican Gov. John Kasich has signed all of them into law. ...

“Husted, meanwhile, last week compounded the assault on voting rights by issuing flawed early-voting hours for Ohio elections that eliminate in-person voting on Sundays (Directive 2014-06). Sundays are a particularly popular time for early in-person voting among minority voters (whose votes tend to go to Democrats). ...

“... Keep in mind the throngs of Ohioans, statewide, who voted on the Sunday before the 2012 presidential election. As The Plain Dealer reported at the time, ‘Early voters jammed county election boards across Ohio Sunday on the last weekend day before the election.’ In Cleveland, the line of voters ‘stretched two blocks.’”

The Des Moines Register released a poll Monday showing that 71 percent of Iowa voters think it’s more important that every eligible registered voter is able to vote. That included 2 of 3 Republicans polled.

Myrna Perez, an expert on voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, told the Register: “Americans care about preventing voter fraud, but they care more about making voting free, fair and accessible.”

That’s as true for Americans in Ohio as anywhere else in this country.

Fortunately, we’re already seeing signs that various groups, including some city and county officials, will fight these latest voting restrictions.

I’m feeling hopeful, in part because I remember 2004, when Ken Blackwell was Ohio’s secretary of state and a co-chairman of President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign.

I was a columnist at The Plain Dealer at the time, and when I called to tell his office that we were going to run the voter registration form in our newspaper, Blackwell tried to stop it, claiming we would “slow down the process.”

Understand that our newspaper was in the bluest part of the state. Lots of those African-American, low-income and elderly voters.

You see where this was going. Only it didn’t.

All seven county boards of elections in our readership area defied the Ohio secretary of state and said they would process every last one of those newsprint registration forms.

By the tens of thousands, that’s exactly what they did.

• Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. Reach her at con.schultz@yahoo.com.

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