Today is the first day of early voting in Ohio; it also marks the last hoorah for “Golden Week,” the brief window of opportunity where someone can register and vote at the same time that has been so very important to low-income voters.
The upcoming primary election may, in fact, be the last time Ohioans have the opportunity to vote at a time that is truly convenient for them.
With the passage of Senate Bill 238 and the Secretary of State’s directive to set voting hours, early voting times will dramatically decrease for the 2014 gubernatorial election. The number of early voting days has been reduced from 35 to 29 and you will only be able to vote during “normal business hours” and some Saturdays. Forget voting on Sundays — the immensely popular “Souls to the Polls” voting initiatives among Ohio’s African-American churches are no longer allowed.
Bit by bit, voting opportunities are being reduced. You may dare to question why there are many who will tell you to stop whining, arguing that you have more time to vote than a lot of other states. It is a variation on the standard “others don’t have this privilege so you should be grateful,” argument.
But voting isn’t a privilege. Voting is a fundamental right.
While those who supported these cuts to early voting may be able to take time off work to vote in the middle of the day on election day, some Ohioans cannot afford to do so. Many of us are better served by opportunities to vote in the evenings or on Saturdays and Sundays.
For these reasons and others, some municipalities are opposing these cuts. Summit County Council and Akron City Council passed resolutions denouncing the law, while the Dayton City Council is considering passing a resolution calling for the repeal of the new law. Cuyahoga County is also preparing to fight.
The backlash is growing and the opponents of these bad ideas have more than a few court victories on their side. Remember that early voting in Ohio was cut in 2012 just before the presidential election and the Obama campaign’s lawsuit challenging the cuts resulted in a win for voting rights.
The court that heard this case was particularly worried about a scenario where "states were permitted to pick and choose among groups of similarly situated voters to dole out special voting privileges.”
Less than two years later, early voting hours have again been changed to do just that, provide special voting privileges. Those who have the flexibility to vote during normal business hours have been chosen. Never mind the tens of thousands of working Ohioans who benefited greatly from the expanded hours. They might literally lose their right to vote if they cannot make it to the polls.
All of this begs the question: Why? Why take our state backwards? Why dismantle a system that has worked so well for so many voters, regardless of their political persuasion? Why risk going back to the confusion and administrative nightmares of past elections?
Once again, it is time for Ohioans to start asking themselves these questions. In the meantime, enjoy early voting… while you still can.