Election Day 2008 was the night the course of American politics changed, as people withstood long lines, the weather, and continued rumors about voting etiquette and policies, to vote the first African-American into office—President Barack Obama. And in 2000, there was a ton of controversy over the lawfulness of the election – and especially the votes – cast for Democratic nominee Al Gore and President George W. Bush.
Fast forward to present day 2011, and several states have successfully passed legislation that will add difficulty and confusion to next year’s presidential election, potentially changing the course of American politics.
Ohio, one of the 2008 battleground states, passed a law changing voting policies that could have some serious implications for voters next year. But, several human rights groups and state politicians joined forces to challenge it, saying, “not so fast.”
According to Ohio’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) website, House Bill (HB) 194 would cripple early voting, prevent poll workers from helping voters complete forms, and make it difficult for local board of elections to promote voting to all registered voters.
Ohio’s House of Representatives passed the bill on June 29, 2011.
In a press release from the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati, “HB 194 puts up barrier after barrier, making it harder for minorities and low-income people to exercise their right to vote. We can stop this bill, but we need to act now. It’s time to stand up and stop the attacks on our communities,” said civic leader Dr. Otis Moss, Jr.
To contest the bill, those against it would have needed 231,000 signatures by the end of September 2011. If they reached the quota, then HB 194 would not be in effect for next year’s election. Fair State Ohio – a group of legislators, labor unions and citizens – collected over 300,000 signatures of registered voters, putting a temporary stop to the bill.
Adding fuel to the voting legislation debacle is the national hot button issue of new voter identification laws. The National Conference of State Legislatures website states that Alabama, South Carolina, and Texas have passed stricter voter ID laws. (The laws can’t officially take effect until they are cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice.) Conversely, Governors in Missouri and Montana vetoed stricter voter ID laws.
An ACLU blogger says state legislators who support voter ID are “doing a great job of solving a problem that doesn’t really exist, and suppressing the vote while you’re at it, just in time for a major election.”
Why are these issues important? A comprehensive study released by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law says proposed restrictions would impact five million voters—mostly young, minority, low-income, and disabled voters. This they say could drastically change the political climate for the 2012 election.
The study also says the states that have passed some sort of voting rights law will provide about 171 electoral votes next year – 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidential race. And, of the 12 potential battleground states, five have cut back on voting rights with the possibility of passing more legislation, and two more are looking into considering new restrictions.
Furthermore, Florida and Iowa will make it virtually impossible for people with past felony convictions to get their voting rights restored. Moreover, about 13 states have introduced legislation to end same day registration, restrict voter registration campaigns, and scale back on registration opportunities – namely Maine, Ohio, Florida, and Texas. And, if you are a resident in either Florida or Wisconsin who moves and returns to vote, you may be alarmed to find the once simple task of voting arduous.
What this boils down to is quite simple. We need to get involved with our local and state governments. Find out what’s happening, what reform and new bills are being considered, and what their implications are on your rights and that of others.
Change takes one voice and one vote.