Ohio Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D) has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to review two voting measures making their way through the state legislature that she claims could “suppress the voting rights of African Americans and other minorities.”
The proposed bills (S. 238 and H.B. 269) would reduce the number of absentee-voting days by six, prevent newly registered voters from voting the day they register, and require voters to present valid identification — a driver’s license, a state or military ID card, or a passport — when casting a ballot.
In her letter, Fudge charges that the legislation violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which “prohibits any voting qualification or practice applied by the state which results in the denial or abridgment of the right to vote based on race.” “Recent estimates indicate that over 900,000 eligible voters in Ohio” lack the necessary ID, including as many as “one in four eligible African Americans,” the letter says. Same-day registration and voting “have recently been used at a higher rate by African Americans and lower-income voters.”
“With no indication that voter fraud is a widespread problem in Ohio, this proposal is a thinly veiled attempt to reduce the number of people able to exercise their right to vote,” she writes. “They are attempts to suppress the voting rights of African Americans and other minorities.”
Supporters of the effort argue that limiting early voting would free-up overstressed election boards “during their busiest time of year” and note that the legislation “allows for free photo IDs for people who can’t afford to purchase one and who are at or below the federal poverty level.”
“I think we can have a reasonable debate about policy here,” said State Sen. Frank LaRose (R), the sponsor of the early voting change. “To invoke the specter of a racial matter, I think, takes it too far. It is kind of shameful to do that. What we are talking about is a very modest reduction in the number of early voting days that still leaves Ohio as a leader in the nation, by far, for early voting.”
On Saturday, The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s editorial board came out against the limitation, writing that “absent compelling evidence of election fraud…there is no good, pro-voter reason to end the practice.” It also condemned a separate measure that would change absentee ballot rules.
During the 2012 presidential election, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) attempted to limit early voting to weekdays, and he defied a court order requiring early voting hours to be restored — although he eventually backed down.