House Bill 3 has already passed the Ohio House of Representatives and is about to be approved by the Republican-dominated Senate, probably before the holiday recess. Republicans dominate the Ohio legislature thanks to a heavily gerrymandered crazy quilt of rigged districts, and to a moribund Ohio Democratic party. The GOP-drafted HB3 is designed to all but obliterate any possible future Democratic revival. Opposition from the Ohio Democratic Party, where it exists at all, is diffuse and ineffectual.
HB3's most publicized provision will require positive identification before casting a vote. But it also opens voter registration activists to partisan prosecution, exempts electronic voting machines from public scrutiny, quintuples the cost of citizen-requested statewide recounts and makes it illegal to challenge a presidential vote count or, indeed, any federal election result in Ohio. When added to the recently passed HB1, which allows campaign financing to be dominated by the wealthy and by corporations, and along with a Rovian wish list of GOP attacks on the ballot box, democracy in Ohio could be all but over.
The GOP is ramming similar bills through state legislatures around the US, starting with Georgia and Indiana. The ID requirements in particular have provoked widespread opposition from newspapers such as the New York Times. The Times, among others, argues that the ID requirements and the costs associated with them, constitute an unconstitutional discriminatory poll tax.
The proposed Ohio law will demand a valid photo ID or a utility bill, a bank statement, a paycheck or a government document with a current address. Thousands of Ohio citizens who are elderly, homeless, unemployed or who do not drive will be effectively disenfranchised. Many citizens, for example, rent apartments where the utilities are paid by landlords. In such cases, the number of people living in utilities-included apartment rentals could actually determine an election.
During the 2004 presidential election, Ohio's Republican Secretary of State, J. Kenneth Blackwell, also issued statewide threats against ex-felons and people whose names resembled those of ex-felons. Thousands of such threats were delivered to registered voters who were never convicted of anything, or who were eligible to vote after being released from prison. In 2004 a "Mighty Texas Strike Force" came to Columbus with a specific mandate to threaten ex-felons with arrest if they dared to vote.
HB3 will also reduce voter rolls by ordering county boards of elections to send cards to registered voters every two years. If a card comes back as undelivered, the voter must rely on a provisional ballot. But tens of thousands of provisional ballots were arbitrarily discarded in 2004, and some 16,000 are known to remain uncounted to this day.
HB3 also imposes severe restrictions on voter registration drives. It allows the state attorney-general and local prosecutors wide powers to prosecute vaguely defined charges of fraud against those working to sign up voters. The restrictions are clearly meant to chill the kind of Democratic registration drives that brought hundreds of thousands of new voters to the polls in 2004 (even though many were turned away in Democratic wards due to a lack of voting machines).
Those electronic machines will also be exempted from recounts by random sampling, even in close, disputed elections like those of 2000 and 2004.
In 2004, scores of Ohio voters reported, under oath, that they had pressed John Kerry's name on touchscreen machines, only to see George W. Bush's name light up. A board of elections technician in Mahoning County (Youngstown) has admitted that at least 18 machines there suffered such problems. Sworn testimony in Columbus indicates that votes for Kerry faded off the screen on touchscreen machines there. Other charges of mis-programming, re-programming, recalibrating, mishandling and manipulation of electronic voting software, hardware and memory cards have since arisen throughout Ohio 2004.
For the 2005 election, some 41 additional Ohio counties (of 88) were switched to Diebold touchscreen machines. Despite polls showing overwhelming voter approval, two electoral reform issues went down improbable defeat. Issue Two, meant to make voting easier, and Issue Three, on campaign finance reform, were shown by highly reliable Columbus Dispatch polls to be passing handily.
On the Sunday before the Tuesday 2005 election, the Dispatch predicted Issue Two would pass by a vote of 59% to 33%, with about 8% undecided. But Tuesday's official vote count showed Issue Two failing with just 36.5% in favor and 63.5% opposed. For that to have happened, the Dispatch had to have been wrong on Issue Two's support by more than 20 points. Nearly half those who said they would support Issue Two would have had to vote against it, along with all the undecideds.
The numbers on Issue Three are equally startling. The Dispatch showed it winning with 61%, to just 25% opposed and some 14% undecided. Instead just 33% of the votes were counted in its favor, with 67% opposed, an almost inconceivable weekend turnaround.