I believe in democracy, in the people's right to govern themselves. So when the Supreme Court in the Harmon case ruled that the State of Ohio's voter culling procedure was both legal and constitutional I was naturally upset. Anything that stands between a citizen of the United States and their right to exercise their suffrage is an abomination to me. What makes the Court's ruling especially painful is the fact that it disproportionately affects Ohio's African-American voters, with twice as many African-Americans stricken from the election rolls as white citizens. It looks and smells an awful lot like voter suppression to me and as such is fundamentally anti-democratic.
That having been said, the arguments are over and the case is closed. The Court has spoken and Ohio's voter suppression law remains on the books. The next question has to be, where do we go from here? What are the Ohio citizens who have been purged from the voting lists supposed to do? The answer is painfully simple. Fight back!
Don't get me wrong. The intent of the Ohio Secretary of State's policy is perfectly fine, namely, making sure that only eligible voters cast ballots in Ohio. The procedure used to cull the voting lists is a little imprecise, to say the least. If you haven't actually voted in a while, the Secretary of State's office assumes that something has happened to you, like death, for instance. Naturally nobody wants corpses to vote, well maybe in Cook County it's accepted practice but Ohio is another story all together. At any rate, if you haven't voted in a while, the Secretary of State's office sends out a post card which you are expected to return. If you don't, you're stricken from the election rolls. This disproportionately affects poor people because they don't always have a permanent address where they can receive their mail. More to the point, what can you do about it if your name has been purged?
The thing to understand is that voting is proactive. You have to get up off your butt and do something positive in order to qualify. At a bare minimum you have to register. And, when the time comes, you have to find a polling place and cast your ballot. In other words, you have to take responsibility. Sure, voting IS a right and not a privilege and every citizen has the right to vote. But there are rules regulating your eligibility and you have to follow those rules to exercise your right.
Ohio Democrats have been the ones protesting the loudest over this turn of events, and yes, the program looks and smells like voter suppression. But the way to combat voter suppression isn't to sit around and whine. Marching in protest may get you a lot of free television time, but it does nothing for the poor soul who goes to the polling place only to find that he or she is ruled ineligible to vote. Here's a thought, DO something about it. Get out your old voter lists and get each citizen listed to check to make sure they're still eligible to vote. If they're not, re-register them! It may not be as dramatic as getting your faces on television, but it will make sure people have the right to vote on Election Day!
Long term, what we need are standardized election laws for every state in the union. It's just plain silly to have one standard for voter eligibility in say Wisconsin and an entirely different one here in Illinois. That seems to fly in the face of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. This doesn't mean we should relax voter eligibility rules to the point that anyone who shows up on Election Day gets a vote. But voting is a cherished right guaranteed to every citizen. We should make it as easy as possible for every citizen of this country to register and then to vote because full participation in the voting process is what true democracy is all about.
Filed under: Politics