In 2004, Ohio became infamous for making it difficult to vote and have one’s vote counted. Much of the criticism was directed at then-Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. Remember his directive to reject registration forms on less than 80-pound paper weight?
Now, Ohio House Republicans are attempting to go further than Blackwell ever dared. In an obvious attempt to gain an advantage in the 2012 presidential election, they are attempting to rush through a bill (HB 159) that would make it more difficult for eligible citizens to have their votes counted. Ohio already has a tough voter ID law, but the proposed bill would make the burden on eligible citizens more onerous, requiring that in-person voters present one of four specified forms of government-issued photo identification.
“Disenfranchisement” isn’t a word to be used lightly. But it is necessary to capture this bill’s purpose and impact.
Requiring a photo ID is a poll tax, because if you don’t have a photo ID you have to present a birth certificate to get the required state ID card and obtaining a copy of that birth certificate costs money. That’s a poll tax.
In 2005, the majority-Republican Ohio legislature enacted a bill (Sub HB 3) that imposed stricter ID requirements than federal law. Specifically, it required in-person voters to present either photo ID or nonphoto ID with their name and current address. While there wasn’t much evidence that these requirements were needed, its vote-suppressive impact appears to have been modest. That’s because the vast majority of citizens have one of the permitted forms of ID, and because the law included an exception for the few who don’t. If this new bill passes, it will destabilize the rules yet again – and undoubtedly result in several more years of litigation, just as election officials and poll workers have become familiar with the existing requirements.
I was a poll worker when the original law went into effect, and there was mass confusion. Blackwell made no effort to educate voters or poll workers, in fact, he issued conflicting directives designed to bewilder voters and poll workers.
After the 2006 election, I started to think about these laws differently, and explain them to prospective voters differently. I now view the ever-changing voter ID laws as obstacles carefully placed by conservatives in the path of certain voters in an effort to deny them the franchise, because that’s what they are.
This is battle between certain people who want to vote, and conservatives who hope to deny certain people the right to vote. I think it’s cleaner if we just drop the pretense and approach this as adversarial. If you want to vote and you’re a member of a group these laws disfavor you’re going to have to get around the phalanx of conservative lawmakers who hope to make voting impossible for you. Look at it like that, and you might have a shot at beating them.
Here’s the newest disfavored group of voters:
Ohio’s bill conspicuously leaves out student ID – even from a state university – as an acceptable form of voter identification.