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New voting restrictions in Ohio could spell repeat of 2004

A Cincinnati voter goes to cast a vote in the Nov. 2, 2004 Presidential Election
A Cincinnati voter goes to cast a vote in the Nov. 2, 2004 Presidential Election
Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images

In 2004, George W. Bush won a second term as president by a slim majority. Ohio was crucial to that win, where he won the state by only 119,000 votes. However, it is estimated that at least 174,000 Ohio voters were unable to cast their votes due to the long lines that plagued mostly urban populations in the 2004 election.

After the public outcry following that election, Ohio passed new voting laws to expand early voting and same day registration to prevent future election debacles. Those changes were effective in 2008 and for the most part in 2012.

Now in 2014 ahead of the November mid-term elections and the 2016 presidential election, the Republican held Ohio State Legislature is attempting to reverse the progress made after 2004 with new bills limiting hours for in-person absentee ballot voting, early voting as well as changing absentee ballot and provisional ballot rules that could once again disenfranchise voters in the state of Ohio.

I know firsthand how those long lines affected voting. In 2004 I lived on the north side of Columbus. I went in to vote before I went to work. There were a dozen voting machines in the elementary school gymnasium where I voted and probably 25 other voters were there when I cast my vote. It took twenty minutes for me to cast my vote and head in to work.

One of my oldest friends lived on the other side of town; an area heavily populated with Black voters. She said she wanted to vote but didn't feel like going. I told her that I would drive her to her polling place when I got off of work to make sure that she voted. The polling place wasn't very far from where she lived, but if that’s what it took to get her to the poll, I was willing to drive her there.

When we got to the small library where she was to vote, the line was already stretching two city blocks. The poll workers walked up and down the long line reassuring everyone that they were calling to have more voting machines delivered to the polling place and that everyone in line would get a chance to vote. It was nearing 6:00 p.m.

We waited in line until 10:00 p.m. As the hours ticked away, many became almost defiant, refusing to be kept away from casting their vote. But dozens more left the lines. I remember one woman saying, “I have to pick my kids up, I can’t wait any longer,” before she left the line, having waited several hours. It wasn't until 10:00 p.m. that the two additional machines were brought in and set up.

My friend was able to cast her vote and felt very proud that she stuck it out. We complained the whole way to her house about how many people were kept from voting because there were only four machines at her polling place, yet where I lived there were more than enough machines and certainly enough to spare to be sent to her polling place.

But that was the point of strategically placing fewer machines in urban areas than in other, less heavily minority populated areas. The rationale behind Republican efforts to limit voting in those areas is that those voters are more likely to vote for Democrats.

Rather than competing fairly for votes by making arguments that people will vote for, the solution has become to tilt the scales in their favor by allowing fewer Democratic voters to participate.

It’s a travesty of justice. As the President said in his State of the Union Address this year, “Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote.” Skewing elections by hindering one party or the other from voting is skewing the very essence of democracy until it loses its meaning.

Even Republican voters should stand against the politicians attempting to cheat the vote to make sure that they are elected. It is unfair, undemocratic and frankly unpatriotic.

Not to mention that the argument for these changes has been roundly disproved by the investigations prompted by this very same legislature to look into voter fraud.

The findings of those efforts prove that one, voting fraud is nearly nonexistent two, most voter fraud that has happened has happened by mistake and usually by elderly people who are confused and thirdly, the changes being proposed would not prevent these kinds of voter errors. Instead, it will once again, as in 2004, disenfranchise thousands of Ohio voters.

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