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Profile: Lou Blessing
Lou Blessing was a participant or observer in the following events:
Ohio Governor John Kasich (R-OH) signs a sweeping election measure that may, if it goes into effect, prevent hundreds of thousands of Ohio citizens from voting in November. Parts of the law are being challenged in court, and an effort to repeal it via a voter referendum is underway. The law shortens Ohio’s early voting period, bans in-person early voting on Sunday (a measure many believe is designed to thwart the historic “Souls to the Polls” activities often used by African-American churches to help their congregations vote), and prohibits boards of election from mailing absentee ballot requests to voters. Democrats in the Ohio legislature fought against the bill, but were outvoted in the final votes in both chambers. Former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner (D-OH) says the law places undue barriers on voters and must be repealed. “It’s an accumulation of small procedural changes that add up to be the potential for long lines, dissatisfied voters, and less certainty on election results,” she says. Many of the law’s provisions came from current Secretary of State Jon Husted (R-OH). He has argued that Ohio’s 88 counties need uniform voter procedures. He claims the law has no political aspects nor any political ramifications. Brunner and other critics admit that parts of the bill are positive, particularly language that brings Ohio’s elections laws in line with federal court decisions, and they do not intend to challenge the law’s moving the state’s presidential primary from March to May. Provisions being challenged include:
reducing the early-voting window from the current 35 days before Election Day to 21 days for voting by mail and 17 days for voting in person, eliminating the so-called “golden week” when people could register and vote on the same day;
limiting Saturday in-person, early voting from 8 a.m. to noon and banning Sunday voting outright;
prohibiting in-person early voting the weekend before Election Day;
banning local boards of elections from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot requests to voters and prohibiting the boards from paying the return postage on the applications or ballots; and
specifying that poll workers may—but are not required—to tell voters they are in the wrong precinct. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2011; Associated Press, 7/15/2011; Columbus Dispatch, 7/29/2011]
The law does not contain a controversial voter ID provision, but House Republicans want the Senate to pass a separate photo ID requirement later in July. The Senate seems to be leaning towards allowing a voter ID provision, but giving voters without the “proper” identification the alternative of casting a provisional ballot, a measure supported by Husted. Representative Lou Blessing (R-OH) says, “It’s almost ludicrous to think anyone is being suppressed” by the bill. [Columbus Dispatch, 7/29/2011] Many critics find the provision that allows poll workers to refuse to help voters to be particularly onerous. State Senator Nina Turner (D-OH) notes, “Voting in the wrong precinct led to over 14,000 registered voters statewide [losing] their vote in 2008,” a statement rated “true” by the nonpartisan fact-checking organization PolitiFact. Most of those votes were cast in what the Cleveland Plain Dealer called “urban and impoverished areas of the state,” which traditionally lean Democratic. Turner says of state Republicans, “I guess the loss of votes for some doesn’t matter.” [Think Progress, 7/5/2011] Overall, the Columbus Dispatch will conclude that some 234,000 voters in Columbus alone who successfully cast their ballots in 2008 would find themselves either entirely disenfranchised by the new law or facing new hurdles to casting their votes. Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH) says the law overturns many of the reform measures passed after the 2004 elections, when many critics believe voter restrictions had a huge impact on the outcome in the presidential election in Ohio. “The only reason to limit these requirements is to limit voting and to strip targeted populations of their right to vote,” she says. “Anyone who values our democracy can understand why it is necessary to make voting easier for citizens, not more difficult.” Ohio Board of Elections chairman Doug Preisse, who chairs the Franklin County Republican Party, is also concerned about the new bill. “I could quibble with a few aspects because I’m looking at it from the challenge of running elections in a big county,” he says. “Did they get it right this time? I’m not sure.” [Think Progress, 7/25/2011]
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