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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How is voter suppression acceptable in the USA?

I'll admit it up front -- I screwed up. I went to my polling location yesterday and waited in line for 20 minutes (not bad!) before realizing my driver's license wasn't in my purse and left the line to go home for an alternate ID.

Not remembering where I'd last had my license, I called a colleague who found the Ohio voting requirements page on the Ohio Secretary of State's web page and was told there were a number of forms of ID I could use: state- or U.S.-government issued ID, utility bill, pay check, bank statement, etc. So, I grabbed the first thing whose location I knew and which I felt best represented an appropriate proof of my identity -- my U.S. passport. Went back to the polling station, waited another 20 minutes in line, only to find out as I was checking in that my U.S. passport would not be accepted as an appropriate form of ID.

WHAT???!!! I said, "Really? The state website says a U.S. government-issued ID is OK."

I was adamently told that that applied to a military ID, not a passport. When I asked why, the four workers at the table all told me "that's what we learned in our training." I suggested they contact someone to clear this up, because certainly this was a mistake, but they weren't budging, so I left again.

Don't worry -- I did vote after returning with a utility bill. I wasn't about to let the voter suppression folks take away my vote. But, it did give me reason to consider the potential impact of the various voter suppression efforts launched throughout the country and what that says about the supposed "greatest democracy in the world."

Clearly the GOP feels they made a mistake in letting the horse out of the barn by granting women and African-Americans the right to vote. Why else would they be creating obstacles now that cause people to wait hours in line or give up in frustration when they can't meet confusing ID requirements?

After returning to my office yesterday, I started searching for more detailed info on Ohio's voter requirements. I found varying descriptions of what was required:

And, the Summit County Board of Elections page says that the government ID must have a current address. Passports don't list your address. Unfortunately, I didn't consult either of these two sites, instead I referenced the state's web page on acceptable ID. But, really, why should three pages all dedicated to passing along information to Ohio voters differ in their description of what's permitted?

The only reason I can think of is that Secretary of State Jon Husted intentionally left his web page vague to cause the sort of confusion and frustration I experienced at the polls and that local county BOE's that actually have to deal with the voters are trying to clean up the mess by providing their own interpretation.

At the same time, where's the logic in allowing someone to provide a driver's license with an out-of-date address, but not allow a U.S. passport? For that matter, how is it that "other government documents" (read #7 on Montgomery County document) from agencies, commissions and colleges like letters, notices, court papers, grade reports and transcripts are all acceptable, but a photo ID issued by the U.S. government is not? Or, utility bills, including cell phone bills, which come from private companies are acceptable identification, but a U.S. passport isn't -- especially when the first desired form of ID is a government-issued photo ID?

Add to that the pre-election shenanigans of trying to cut-off early voting in Ohio Democratic counties and you see a very desperate party trying to rig the election.

My state wasn't the only place where this occurred, and it's been a factor for the last several elections. The question is: Is this the example we want to set for all those developing democracies around the world? How can we oppose tyranny in other parts of the world when we can't or won't oppose it here at home?

Perhaps it's time for a U.S. Constitutional Amendment that sets uniform election procedures across the country, out of the hands of politicians who would manipulate rules to disenfranchise the electorate.

As President Obama noted in his acceptance speech last night, "It's time to fix that." Let's do that.

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