Not since the abolitionists and suffragists rocked Ohio’s politics in the 19th and 20th centuries has a movement in the Buckeye State been so essential to human rights. The announcement last week that Ohio’s Legislative Black Caucus, aided by civil rights advocates, is backing The Voter Bill of Rights as an amendment to the Ohio Constitution is the single most important issue before us in the 21st century. The proposed constitutional amendment would end the massive new Jim Crow purges of poor and black people Ohio has become notorious for in national elections.
The amendment would adopt the approach of the European Union and make voting a Constitutional right. Many Americans are shocked to discover that the right to vote is currently not an enshrined Constitutional right. Voting rights are often limited by the 50 different state governments that administer federal, state and local elections.
The proposed voter bill of rights would assure that all qualified Ohio citizens have a right to cast a ballot, and more importantly, have that ballot counted.
Since the 2004 election, Ohio’s history in purging poor and low income voters has been nothing less than appalling. The Free Press obtained public records from the Boards of Elections in Lucas (Toledo), Cuyahoga (Cleveland) and Hamilton (Cincinnati) counties in 2004. The documents revealed that 305,000 voters were removed or “purged” from the voter rolls in a presidential election year. This was unusual, since the voter purges normally occur in the year following a presidential election (as in 2001 or 2005).
The three counties are overwhelmingly Democratic and the purges could have influenced the outcome of the 2004 election, where Kerry “officially” only lost by 118,000 votes.
Between 2005 and 2008, Board of Election documents revealed that 1.25 million voters were purged from the rolls as run up to the 2008 election. A sample by the Free Press in Franklin County indicated that nearly a quarter of these voters still lived at the same address and were unaware that they had been eliminated from the voting rolls.
At least 170,000 voters were removed from the rolls in Franklin County, another 94,000 in Hamilton and 58,000 in Montgomery County (Dayton) according to public records. Under federal law, a voter who hasn’t voted in at least two federal election cycles may be purged from the rolls. Free Press Senior Editor Harvey Wasserman, who has resided at the same address for well over two decades and voted in the federal elections, was one of the voters targeted for purging.
It could have been far worse, since the Republican Party of Ohio had targeted an additional 600,000 urban voters for purging. Courageously, then Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner put a halt to that by issuing a directive requiring that all purged voters be given notification and a hearing.
In some states, notably Ohio, partisan private right-wing companies such as Triad are responsible for drawing up the computerized lists that purge voters.
Another study by the Free Press followed purges after the 2008 election leading up to the 2012 presidential run. Records from all of Ohio’s Boards of Elections documented that 1,092,392 voters were removed from the rolls prior to the 2012 election. Democratic-rich Cuyahoga County led the Buckeye State with more than 267,000 purges. Franklin County, which voted 58 percent Democratic in the 2008 election, purged 94,000 voters and Hamilton County eliminated 66,000 voters, mostly from the city of Cincinnati.
Equally important, a few rural Republican-dominated counties reported that they followed “no-purge” policies. These included Hancock, Huron, Miami, Sandusky, and Wood counties.
The National Voting Registration Act (NVRA) mandates that each state make a reasonable effort to remove the names of ineligible voters from the official rolls. Some voters are removed for legitimate reasons such as death and moving out of the county or state. But, far more are targeted for voting while black, elderly, poor or young. The tendency of these voting blocks to vote disproportionately Democratic puts a target on their back in Republican-dominated Ohio.
On the day after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s actual birthday, coalition supporters submitted The Voter Bill of Rights amendment to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. They are waiting for their initial 1000 signatures and petition language to be verified. If it passes the Attorney General’s office and the Ohio Ballot Board, the ballot will need 385,247 valid signatures by July 2 to be placed on November’s ballot.
With the recent decision by the Supreme Court to strike down key parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, enshrining the right to vote is the only logical thing to do for those who believe in democracy.