White man with black hair with his mouth open yelling into a mic and the words Bob Bites Back

Ohio’s corrupt voter registration system must be reformed. The Dispatch got it right in an editorial that began by saying “Ohio lawmakers should take up Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s request to make voter registration automatic.”

Our current system, fueled by the former Secretary of State and hardline right-winger Ken Blackwell, was designed to target and eliminate core Democratic voters, particularly blacks and poor people. Former Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted perfected the art of de-registering Democratic voters. A 5-4 Supreme Court decision in the Husted v A. Philip Randolph Institute case last year upheld Husted’s undemocratic scheme – purging voters who hadn’t voted in the last few federal elections.

In the run-up to Ohio’s 2004 presidential election, the Free Press broke the story that 305,000 voters – primarily in the cities of Cincinnati, Cleveland and Toledo – were stripped from the voting rolls. In the next four years prior to the 2008 presidential election, the Free Press acquired the names of 1.25 million voters kicked off the voting rolls. Between 2009 and 2012, the number reached 1.1 million.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provided evidence to the Supreme Court that Husted had purged 2 million voters from Ohio’s voting rolls since 2011.

Still, this new Jim Crow practice continues. We just completed another mass purge. LaRose sent out a mailing to voters that cost $130,000 urging them to confirm their addresses, so his office would know they haven’t moved or died.  This time, 264,516 voters received LaRose’s mailing warning them they’d be purged from the voting rolls, even though there was no reason to do so. Only 540 victims bothered to respond to the mailing. And there’s a plausible reason why.

On Thursday, April 26, U.S. Representative Marcia Fudge convened a new House subcommittee on Voting Rights. Fudge, a Cleveland Democrat, noted that LaRose’s mailing looked like junk mail. This is a charge that award-winning journalist Greg Palast also leveled against Husted.

The Dispatch ran an article criticizing the mailing with the title: “$130K tab registers 540 voters.” They cite the fact that 85,116 voters, 32 percent of those mailed, had their letters determined “Not Deliverable” or “Unable to Forward.” The fact is, the postal service was able to successfully deliver to 180,000 registered voters, more than two-thirds of the list, who appear to be living at their registered addresses. The Dispatch headline should have read: “Democracy saved for 540 voters.”

We live in a computerized world. There is no reason to strip voters of their right to vote because they failed to vote in two federal election cycles. Just leave their information in a database. A hard drive can hold active and inactive voter registrations. Purging is technically unnecessary and demonstrates a contempt for the fundamental principles of democracy.  

Also, the State of Ohio requires voters produce ID in order to vote. At the polling sites, pollworkers are perfectly capable of matching the address on an ID to the address on the voting rolls. Why even check addresses in a mailing when they are checked at the polls?

If we lived in a real democracy like the European Union, our right to vote would be constitutionally protected and the election officials would be commanded to register citizens to vote.

Instead, we live in an increasingly authoritarian fascistic society, where Ohio State University Moritz College of Law professors act as apologists for the undemocratic practices of elected Ohio officials. Edward Foley, OSU law professor, stated his opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court case upholding the mass purging of Ohio voters in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “I don’t think there’s any real reason to believe that the drop off is going to be significant,” Foley said. “The Ohio law that was upheld in this case never disenfranchised anybody.” Foley offered no facts to counter the two million voter number supplied by the ACLU.

LaRose can redeem himself in this season of resurrection and redemption by adopting the practices of the European Union. After all, candidate LaRose proposed that very reform. The Dispatch is also on board in its recent editorial correctly noting that “…when Ohioans interact with any state agency – such as to pay taxes, renew a driver’s license or buy a fishing license – they would also be registered to vote or have their registrations updated unless they opt out.”

If LaRose would embrace these obvious democratic voter registration procedures he would seal his place not only in Ohio, but in U.S. history, as the great defender of election integrity and democracy. A last bit of advice: Do not wait for authorization from the Ohio lawmakers. You don’t need it. You’re the elected Secretary of State. Move forward boldly to restore democracy. 

On another note: Very seldom do I agree with anything that the right-wing zealot and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell says. But he’s absolutely accurate in calling House Bill 6, the ridiculously mis-named Ohio Clean Air Program, “crony capitalism at its worst” and a bailout for the bankrupt FirstEnergy utility.

Much better to call it the “Let’s Radiate Ohio for Millenniums” bill.

Ohio Republican legislators prepare to cut one of the largest welfare checks in the history of the Buckeye State, $300 million dollars. This will be a payment that will be cut every year indefinitely or until FirstEnergy’s nuclear plants finally crumble.

Appears in Issue: