Monday, July 25, 2011

Voting Changes Coming to Ohio

How do you vote, when you can bring your residence to the polling place?
Photo by Cheryl Jones of the Grapevine Photo Project

Why Are We Making All These Changes?

Was the 2010 election corrupt in Ohio? Did we have long lines at the polling places? Did we have a flawed electronic voting system without a backup for verification purposes? Were there charges from either side that voters were casting multiple ballots? Were there problems with counting the ballots or with provisional voting? So, why did we change the procedure for voting Ohio with the passage of House Bill 194?

NEOCH has been involved in a lawsuit against the State of Ohio since 2006 that we finally settled in 2010. We have a 20 year history of working to assure that those without a traditional residence have a right to vote. We believe that it is critical to have homeless people participate in the electoral process under the thinking that they above other citizens need to vote for leaders willing to address the housing, job and healthcare crisis. These changes are especially troubling to groups that represent very low income individuals, and will make it difficult for our constituency to participate in democracy.

The leaders down in Columbus made changes to the procedure for voting with the passage of HB 194, and then two weeks later corrected the law that they had just passed. Strange, and it does not inspire confidence in the law if they needed a fix only two weeks later. So what are the changes and what will they mean?

  • The size of the precincts will be changed so that they are larger, but for some reason only in urban communities. This will mean longer lines for those in cities where the majority of homeless people reside.
  • Poll workers will not be required to tell people that they are voting in the wrong precinct, which will result in many more spoiled ballots and disenfranchised voters.
  • Counties may not send out an application for early voting to registered voters. Large counties tried to encourage voting to cut down on lines by sending out notices to every registered voter, and paid for the return of the ballot to the Board. This new law will prevent counties from communicating with voters and prevents them from paying for the return of the completed request. This will result in more people voting in person thus causing lines.
  • There are a whole series of changes that allow corporations greater participation in the election, which will bring more dollars into the election.
  • The time to bring citizen petitions to a statewide ballot would be shortened making it harder to get ballot issues before voters to decide.
  • Provisional ballots could be excluded from being counted for technical reasons. This was the settlement of the NEOCH vs. State of Ohio lawsuit that will be overturned. Homeless people often have to vote a provisional ballot because they move around so frequently. It was our position that if a poll worker makes the error the ballot should count. This new law would allow that a poll worker who suspects the voter to be casting a ballot for the other party they could make an intentional error on the processing of the ballot and it would not count thus benefiting the poll worker's party.
  • They have taken away the ability to open early voting sites on Sundays and reduced early voting to 16 days (down from 35). This will result in longer lines for early voting and fewer people with the ability to vote early in person. Again, more people will be forced to vote in person on election day again resulting in lines.
  • Long lines at the polling place cannot interfere with local surrounding businesses. I have no idea what this means or how it is can be enforced. Would the county sheriff or Ohio Highway Patrol shut down voting activities because it was interfering with a local bowling alley which happens to share a parking lot with a church polling place? Would the local police have jurisdiction to enforce this part of the law?
  • There are new rules for when to take a voter off the voting rolls. This would allow the state to search databases and take a voter off the list of eligible voters. Often there is a conflict between two state databases due to clerical errors, and with this new law that could involve the individual being taken off the voting roles. The voter would then have to vote a provisional ballot and hope that it gets counted under the new rules.
These changes will be harmful to those who live in cities. They will make it more difficult to vote in person and by mail. They will fix problems that never existed in Ohio, and will reduce confidence in the election. Ohio had major problems with voting in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential election, but the only problem in 2008 election was with duplicate registrations. No one charged that there were duplicate voters or that Mickey Mouse voted in Ohio, just that ACORN paid people to register people and many of these canvassers made up registrations in order to get paid. Why would we want to go back to long lines and attempts to trip up voters by figuring out ways to disqualify voters? We should try to get as many people as possible to want to vote and make that process as easy as possible. Ohio is moving the wrong way in providing an efficient and trustworthy process for participating in democracy.

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