The Republican Party realizes that the only way they can win the presidency in 2012 is by winning Ohio. In order to win Ohio, they've made a conscious and cynical decision to shrink the electorate by disenfranchising nearly 900,000 voters. This is the passage of House Bill 159. They've deliberately targeted the core of Democratic voters by requiring every voter to have either a state driver's license or a state photo ID to vote. Only three states require government-issued photo IDs at the polls and Ohio is the most restrictive. For example, the public colleges and universities in Ohio are state institutions and issue photo IDs. Students can't use these to vote.
Ohio has quite a history. Former Secretary of State Ken Blackwell served as Ohio co-chair of the Bush-Cheney Reelection campaign in 2004 while simultaneously being in charge of counting the votes. He bent over backward to disenfranchise tens of thousands of legal Ohio voters [primarily black and students] in that election. Many saw Blackwell as the reincarnation of Florida's Secretary of State, Katherine Harris. Readers will recall that she handed the election to Bush four years earlier after purging over 57,000 legal African American voters. Is this a page out of the same playbook?
Yes, it is a page out of the same playbook. In this case, it is not the Secretary of State acting as a campaign official for an election, it's the Republican Party deciding to openly steal the 2012 election by disenfranchising voters. The Republicans realized that they can't win with the existing demographics in Ohio. So, they've been essentially purging voters in large numbers following the 2000 election.
Between the 2000-2002 elections, they purged 305,000 voters in Ohio, primarily in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Toledo. These purges occurred by the Republican Party sending mail to houses in overwhelmingly Democratic neighborhoods, which went mostly unanswered, and therefore the voter in the household was considered not living there and lost their voting rights. Others were purged because the Republicans re-interpreted the election cycle -- purging people who did not vote in two successive election cycles. They interpreted election cycles as being every two years instead of every four years. They also illegally purged former felons in Ohio, although in the state, once leaving prison a felon has the right to vote.
Between the 2004-2008 elections, they purged 1.25 million voters, although many of them re-registered to vote ACORN and the Obama campaign prior to the 2008 election.
Now, the Republicans are writing into law that everyone has to have a government-issued photo ID at the polling sites. The Republican Party has gone from covert purges to flagrant and open disenfranchisement of voters. The passing of House Bill 159 is blatantly anti-democratic and is an attempt to create a one-party system in Ohio. At the same time they're disenfranchising 900,000 primarily Democratic voters, they're destroying the public unions in Ohio which is the base of Democratic Party money.
Are Ohioans outraged? Where are the Democrats? The media? The unions? The other traditional Democratic allies?
The most outraged group is the American Civil Liberties Union that very directly accused the Republican Party of election theft. Daniel Tokaji of the Ohio State Mortiz School of Law, often a critic of election rights activists, described it as "disenfranchisement."
Unfortunately most Ohioans, including the unions and the Democratic Party, were so caught up in fighting Senate Bill 5 that stripped public employees in Ohio of collective bargaining rights that the legislation [passed] with little fanfare, except by key members of the Black Caucus.
The mainstream for-profit corporate media covered it in a factually accurate, but matter-of fact way. If it is going to gain traction -- it will have to happen in the blogosphere.
Ohio was the epicenter of illegal maneuvers and dirty tricks during, before and after the 2004 election and is in the forefront on the escalated wholesale disenfranchisement of legal voters. Do you anticipate a more widespread move to copy Ohio in this regard? And what can we outside the halls of power be doing about it?
I think these tactics will be used in battleground states like Florida and Wisconsin where the Republicans are now firmly in control. They realize that they have a small window of opportunity before they're thrown out of office so their only chance to hang on to their seats is to rig the outcome of the elections by stripping people of voting rights.
Personally, I'd like to see more direct confrontations between the legislators who are passing these bills and voting rights advocates. The tactics used in the civil rights movement in the early 60s -- nonviolent sit-ins, demonstrations, protests -- need to be re-embraced. As in Wisconsin, I think people need to occupy the Statehouse in Columbus and not leave until the issue is publicly debated, not just by the legislature, but by the people too.
How likely is it that Ohioans will imitate their Wisconsin neighbors and get out there and make themselves heard?
I think within 90 days Ohioans will gather more than 300,000 signatures to freeze the anti-union SB 5 bill. Then they'll have to go out and register people to vote and help get voters ID cards in order to get the votes to overturn the union-busting bill. They will realize that the anti-democratic nature of the Republicans' union busting also at the heart of HB 159 and hopefully they'll make the final leap of understanding that it's the reactionary friends of the Republican Party that control the hardware and software in the voting system in Ohio.
Anything you'd like to add, Bob, before we wrap this up?
I believe it is going relentless activism to beat back this legislation. There will no doubt be lawsuits. On the plus side, every major newspaper in Ohio except for the Cincinnati Enquirer, has editorialized against the bill.
I was just at a conference today with students from colleges throughout Ohio who are planning demonstrations and even planning sit-ins to maintain their voting rights.
Another thing people can do is to gather April 28-29 at the Netherland Hotel and demonstrate against the secretive group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the far-right wing group that is pushing all of this reactionary legislation throughout the nation.
You're quite right, Bob; these issues are not limited to Ohio alone. Please keep us in the loop. And thanks so much for talking with me.
What Happened in Ohio? - A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election , Fitrakis, Steven Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman
How the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election & Is Rigging 2008  by Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
Did George W. Bush Steal America's 2004 Election? Essential Documents  co-editor with Steven Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman