Lifestyle Feature

So Goes The Nation

Chad W. Lutz
Suffrage: the right to vote. Often cited as a fundamental human right throughout history, voting stands as a staple of democracy and serves as the unifying purpose of people in a republic. For 236 years, the United States of America has independently held public, general elections. And as integral as elections remain to the growth and prosperity of any democracy, a sizeable amount of U.S. citizens find them pointless, irrelevant, and antiquated. The reasons behind these sentiments are often dispelled as mere conspiracy theory; citing lack of evidence to support broad claims and personal disposition to the idea of democracy itself.

When our forefathers decided to draft the Declaration of Independence in June 1776, Thomas Jefferson inked a solidifying document, one that addressed “certain unalienable Rights.” One of those rights was taxation without representation; a notion held, not by all, even settlers who opposed the crown, but by many, and enough to spark the American Revolution. It was the idea that someone was making decisions on behalf of another without fair say in the matter by the party in question. A notion so seemingly insignificant on the grand scheme of things, like being taxed for tea and stamps without formal approval by the taxed, didn’t go unnoticed. On the July 4, 1776, those qualms were formally approved by the Continental Congress and sent before King George III soon after.

More than 200 years later, Americans still celebrate the thoughts and ideas outlined in the Declaration, not only by lighting fireworks and engorging ourselves on hotdogs in early-July, our Nation also holds Primary and General Elections every spring and fall as our main means of passing legislation and electing public officials.

So what, Chad? Tell me something I don’t already know.

I’m getting there.

It’s interesting to note, and should be doubly noted, that the right to vote is not determined federally in the United States, but by each state separately. In total, five amendments to the U.S. Constitution explicitly mention suffrage:

1.) 14th Amendment – adopted July 9, 1868: outlines the constructs of apportionment of representatives, e.g. abolished the 3/5 Compromise and penalized states preventing any adult male the right to vote.
2.) 15th Amendment – adopted February 3, 1870: prohibits any government (local, state, federal) from denying voting rights based on age, color, or history as a slave.
3.) 19th Amendment – adopted August 18, 1920: prohibits voter discrimination based on gender.
4.) 23rd Amendment – adopted March 29, 1961: enables residents of Washington D.C. to vote in Presidential and Vice Presidential elections. Prior to the amendment, D.C. residents could not vote because the District isn’t technically a state. The first Presidential Election to include votes from D.C. was the 1964 race.
5.) 26th Amendment – adopted July 1, 1971: established the legal age of voting in the United States at 18.

So where does all of that lead us?

Right into the 2012 Presidential election…

On Tuesday, November 6, 2012, voters across the United States will begin casting ballots at approximately 6:30am est. However, as allowed by many state constitutions, Ohio voters may access ballots up to 50 days prior to the election, and may vote in-person, as well. Of all the states in the U.S., early voting is allowed in 31 with no excuse, with an excuse in 3, and is prohibited in 16. Many states allow some form of early voting, such as absentee voting. Requiring an excuse technically refers to having a legal reason as to why a voter needs to vote prior to the general or primary election. In Ohio, voters may cast an early vote without an excuse either absentee or in-person. Early voting ends four days prior to the general or primary election.

Sounds like a novel idea right? And especially for those who may work late on Election Day or need time to make an informed decision while having access to the ballot to reference.

With hot buttons issues still teetering on the legislative chopping blocks, increased violence, and numerous national disasters, coupled with the slow economy and unemployment still increasing in many states (national average sitting at 8.3% of July 2012), the 2012 Presidential Race bodes tumultuous and voter turnout remains crucial for all parties. However, it appears as though many local and state governments are trying to deny voters, what our forefathers possibly referred to, now 236 years ago, as an unalienable right, that seven-letter cog of democracy dependant of prosperity and socially beneficial change: suffrage.

Case 1: Cincinnati, OH

First reported by the Cincinnati inquirer and then picked up by The New York Times, citizens of Butler and Warren counties were able to vote early, as state legislation allows, beginning in October at polling places on weekends and weeknights past regular business hours (7:00pm). This isn’t out of the ordinary because it’s A.) Allowed by law and B.) Reduces congestion at polling places on Election Day. Good plan.

However, residents of Hamilton County (Cincinnati Proper) were denied these same rights by the Republican-dominated county election board. Early voting polls in Hamilton County would close at 5:00pm and remain closed on weekends, depriving a predominantly black (45% of the total population) area from access to early voting, other than absentee balloting. Conflicting counties, Butler and Warren, contain predominantly white populations (92% Butler County/96.5% Warren County).

On August 19, 2012, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced all counties would implement uniform early-voting procedures. Just weeks after the initial controversy in Hamilton, Butler, and Warren counties two democratic election officials, Tom Ritchie Sr. and Dennis Lieberman, were suspended by Mr. Secretary for pushing to extend early voting hours beyond the hours put in place. Secretary Husted imposed congruent hours of 8:00am to 5:00pm weekdays the first three weeks of voting, and 8:00am to 7:00pm on weeknights the following two. Husted abolished weekend early voting hours, although allowed by Ohio State Constitutional Law.
Map showing counties currently with early voting hours in place (58 without) www.progress.org
Case 2: Voter ID Requirements

As a registered poll worker, one of the chief complaints I hear every election is what is considered valid ID. Though trained and empowered by the State of Ohio to know what constitutes a valid form of identification and what doesn’t, there are always one or two voters in every ward, in every precinct who appear ready to make a federal case out of any sort of perceived slight in their right to vote.

In Ohio, it is no longer required to show a valid PHOTO ID. I repeat: it is no longer required to show a valid PHOTO ID, by law. If someone asks you for a photo ID, you have the right to refuse. However, you must present one of the four valid forms of ID, otherwise YOU MUST VOTE PROVISIONALLY. For those of you who don't know what voting provisionally means, it means there is/was a question as to a voter’s eligibility, and before the ballot is counted in the general vote, verification by the county board of elections must take place in order to affirm the identity and eligibility of a voter).

Currently, Ohio requires at least one of the following:

1.) Current and valid photo ID i.e. driver’s license, state-issued ID card.
2.) Current Utility Bill with name, address, phone number
3.) Current Bank Statement with name, address, phone number
4.) Current government check, paycheck with name, address, phone number, or other government document.

Other than these four forms of identification, Ohio Voters may not use any other form of identification to verify identity on Election Day. If a registered poll workers demands you provide any other form of information, they are either lying, or have no idea what they’re talking about.

A U.S. PASSPORT IS NOT AN ACCEPTABLE FORM OF VOTER IDENTIFICATION IN OHIO

Wherein lies the controversy is the provision of “free” photo IDs by State Bureau of Motor Vehicles to “eligible” and “indigent” citizens. However, the wording in this legislation is loose and open to broad interpretation and the mere presence of a verification process allows for otherwise eligible voters to have suffrage denied by the state.

Case 3:Summit County

Two days ago I received my usual notice from the board of elections about the upcoming general election. Typically, this is when I get a green or pink card and check a tiny little box as to whether or not I’m going to be able to work in the upcoming election, general or primary, with instructions pertaining to available training sessions prior to the date. This time, I receive no formal card (which is really just a colored index card). Instead, I received a document, on computer paper, with regrets abound, informing me that no full-time positions were available for the upcoming general election (the Presidential Election), but only “part-time seasonal opportunities.”

In order to pull off such a maneuver as gutting some 180 precincts, new precinct lines have been drawn. The average number of voters at each precinct is expected to increase from around 400 to nearly 1,200 voters. Many people, when faced with the lines already encountered, go home and don’t vote. And wouldn’t you know it, under a Republican-controlled state government, including the governor’s office and the majority both state houses, your guess as to which party the lines favor is about as redundant as me wasting the type on this page for you to read it.

Although almost unbelievable, Summit County, the fourth largest county in Ohio, has reduced the number of precincts from 475 to 298. I can tell you personally, that voter turnout, albeit sometimes only 14% as in the case of my precinct’s turnout in the primary in March is still more than most of what the average registered poll worker can already handle. In the November election held last fall (2011), 46 percent of Ohio Voters came out to the polls. There were lines out the door on numerous occasions at my table and the elderly poll workers became so flustered they nearly handed a man, who only deserved to vote provisionally, a regular ballot because he was “intimidating.” Shame on that man for intimidating old ladies if it be so, and shame on the poll workers who took an oath to uphold the Ohio Revised Code for nearly abandoning procedure when the seas got a little rough.

Ohio stands as an all-important battleground for any politician seeking the highest office in the land. Considered by many political analysts to be the most coveted swing-state, Ohio carries 18 electoral votes for the upcoming 2012 Election, down from 22 in 2004. Since the 1996 Presidential Election, no candidate has won by a larger margin than 6%. The average is 3%. Current polls show a tight race, between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, adding even more tension to an already tense political race.

The saying, as it goes, is: “As Ohio goes, so goes the nation.” But if all we can count on as American citizens, and Ohioans, is blatant and overt racial and electoral discrimination, gerrymandering, and rigging, I sure hope not.

No sympathy for the American Voter…