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Taking the Trash Out

The Latest Voter Suppression in Ohio

The show “The West Wing” made the term famous: in politics, late Friday is when you take the trash out. You wait as late as possible in the week, when the press is closing up shop and regular folks are tuning out for the weekend, to do something you don’t want people to notice.

Well, Governor Mike DeWine—who never shies from a high-profile press conference when he wants attention—shamefully took the trash out when it came to Ohio voters last Friday afternoon. It was then that he signed the latest of the numerous voter suppression measures that have made Ohio a case study of how states and statehouses rig the rules of democracy to lock out voters they consider a threat to their power.

In one fell swoop, the law DeWine signed did all the following things:

  • Imposed the strictest photo ID law in the nation—experts estimate that at least 500,000 Ohioans lack the forms of ID now required under the law. (Ohio already had an identification requirement, but it allowed for a broader array of documents to be used)

  • Reduced the window (from 10 days to 4 days) in which completed mail-in ballots must arrive after Election Day to be counted.

  • Reduced the window (from 3 days before Election Day to 7) for voters to submit an application for an early ballot.

  • Limited each county board of elections offices to only one ballot drop box—guaranteeing that long lines will only be longer.

  • Eliminated in-person voting the Monday before Election Day, when tens of thousands of voters have consistently cast their ballots.

  • Reduced the time (from 7 days to 4 days) that provisional voters can provide or correct information necessary to have their vote count.

Of course, there has been no evidence that there is a problem of voter integrity or fraud that these measures will solve. To the contrary, Ohio Republicans have spent years touting how secure elections have been under current rules and procedures. When he signed the bill, DeWine admitted as much: Ohio, he said, “does a good job of administering elections” and has “avoid[ed] the problems we have seen in recent federal elections in other states."

Rather than legitimate issues of election integrity, what’s plain as day is that whether it’s non-stop attacks on the early voting process, new rules that create errors that lead to votes being thrown out, illegal gerrymandering, drop boxes, provisional votes, or the far stricter photo ID law, the impact will disproportionately impact young voters and Black voters in the state.

And that, as I explain in my video, is why the non-stop suppression of voters since 2010 is so reminiscent of the brutal tactics that led to Jim Crow and segregation more than a century ago. It’s all about destroying the diverse coalition of voters that came together in Ohio in 2008 and 2012 to turn the state Blue.

And of course, all this happens below the radar as we ogle the politics of DC, as many of us were Friday night, with the drawn-out Speaker fight. It’s a fitting juxtaposition: the far right keeps us fixated on chaos in DC while they wage endless (and effective) attacks on democracy back in states like Ohio. And of course, the broken and gerrymandered politics in states is a prime driver of the ever more dysfunctional and far-right trajectory of the GOP in DC.

Thankfully, a coalition of groups filed a federal suit to stop the law only hours after DeWine signed it. The Complaint alleges that the law imposes “disproportionately severe burdens on young, elderly, and Black voters in the state [by] making it substantially harder to vote in person and by mail, while at the same time making it more difficult for voters to correct any mistakes made in the process.”

I’ll keep you posted as the suit progresses.

UPDATE: on the positive side, two other attacks on democracy that were advancing during the lameduck session (a power grab on the elected school board as well as an effort to stymie Ohioans from amending our Constitution) didn’t ultimately make it to the Governor’s desk. Thank you to so many of you who made calls and sent emails—they made a difference.


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David Pepper