Following Senate Hearing In Cleveland, Sens. Brown, Durbin, Rep. Fudge Take A Stand Against Infringements On Voting Rights

Field Hearing at the Stokes Courthouse Examines Ohio’s H.B. 194 and Other Efforts Underway to Limit Voting Rights

CLEVELAND, OH— U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) held an official hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights at the Carl B. Stokes United States Federal Courthouse today. The hearing examined the impact of Ohio’s new voting law, H.B. 194, which reduces the number of early voting days from 35 to 17, eliminates voting on the weekend before an election, removes the requirement that poll workers direct voters to their proper precinct and prohibits county boards of elections from mailing unsolicited absentee ballots.  H.B. 194 will be subject to a ballot repeal measure in November.  U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Warrensville) provided testimony.

“H.B. 194 is a solution in search of a problem. It will repeal a number of common-sense measures that assist Ohioans in voting. For instance, this law eliminates early voting on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday prior to the election, the three busiest days of early voting. This reduction was made despite the fact that in 2008, up to 19 percent of Ohio voters cast their ballots on the weekend prior to the election,” Brown said. “Not only that, but under H.B. 194,  ballot workers will be prohibited from directing voters—who may be their friends, colleagues, or parishioners—to the correct polling location. Rather than protecting the right to vote, HB 194 is a brazen attempt to undermine it. This bill will disenfranchise more Ohioans of their right to vote, and that’s wrong. Our citizens deserve better.”

“If the goal of Ohio’s new voting law is to drive down turnout by causing confusion and erecting barriers to the ballot, than the law will undoubtedly be a success,” Durbin said. “Cutting back on early voting, making it difficult for voters to find their polling place and hurting the ability for voters to vote absentee could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Ohio voters. Regardless of how clever or innocuous a new voting law may seem, if it makes it harder or impossible for citizens to cast a ballot, we must speak out and work to get that law modified, repealed, or invalidated by a court of law. And that’s why we’re here in Ohio today.”

 

“The right to vote is one of the most important rights we enjoy as Americans. It is the bedrock of our democracy.  Instead of making it easier to vote, Ohio House Bill 194 and other suppressive proposals have one true purpose—to set up roadblocks that make it more difficult for thousands of Ohioans to vote,” Fudge said. “These types of laws are not unique to Ohio.  We have seen state lawmakers throughout the nation propose and enact legislation that disproportionately impact targeted populations such as minorities, seniors, students, the disabled and the working poor.  The right to vote is under attack.”

In addition to Congresswoman Fudge, witnesses included: David Arrendondo, Director of International Student Services at Lorain County Community College; Carrie L. Davis, Executive Director at the League of Women Voters of Ohio in Columbus; Dale Fellows, a Republican State Central Committeeman  and Executive Committee Member of the Lake County Republican Party; Gregory T. Moore, Campaign Director at Fair Elections Ohio; and Daniel Tokaji, Professor of Law at the Moritz College of Law at the Ohio State University.

More than thirty states have new or pending changes to current voting laws. States seeking to change their laws have passed or proposed provisions that significantly reduce the number of early voting days, require voters to show restrictive forms of photo identification before voting and make it harder for volunteer organizations to register new voters. Supporters of these laws argue that they will reduce the risk of voter fraud. The overwhelming evidence, however, indicates that voter fraud is virtually non-existent and that these new laws will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of elderly, disabled, minority, young, rural, and low-income Americans to exercise their right to vote.

An excerpt of Brown’s opening statement, as prepared for delivery, follows.

 

Instead of working to protect the right to vote, we are seeing brazen attempts around the country to undermine it. We are being told that HB 194—and laws like it, which significantly reduce the number of early voting days and make it more difficult for Ohioans to exercise their right to vote—will reduce costs and reduce the risk of voter fraud.

 

However, the overwhelming evidence indicates that voter fraud is virtually non-existent, and that these new laws will make it harder and more costly for hundreds of thousands of Ohioans to exercise their right to vote.

 

It is symbolically significant that you [Chairman Dick Durbin] are holding this second field hearing following your hearing in Florida. During the 2004 Presidential election, Ohio saw a bit of a rerun of Florida in 2000: a dysfunctional election marred by electronic voting machines improperly tallying votes and Ohioans waiting in line for hours in some cases.

 

I was at Oberlin College then, in my congressional district, where voters, many of them young voters, waited for six hours to vote. At Kenyon College, just an hour south, not far from where I grew up, voters waited nine hours to vote.

  

This wasn't a question of voter fraud, of individuals trying to game the system. This was not a question of an individual voting multiple times. Voters aren't going to try to do that; there's nothing in it for a voter to try to vote five times and change an election. The clouds over the '04 election in Ohio were all caused by process, and not by individual voters.

 

Now, seven years later, we see a continuation of the efforts to undo a model election system—created by Republican and Democratic members of the legislature— as Ohio returns to the headlines again for the wrong reasons.

 

The new election law, HB 194, undermines Ohio’s efforts to ensure that all votes ARE counted. This law repeals earlier voting laws passed by Democrats and Republicans and signed by a Republican Governor.  That is what is disturbing […]

 

In a seemingly innocuous manner, HB 194 eliminates early voting on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday prior to the election, the three busiest days of early voting.

 

This reduction was made despite the fact that in 2008, up to 19 percent of Ohio voters cast their ballots on the weekend preceding the election. Furthermore, this significant reduction in early voting was made despite the fact that evidence overwhelmingly indicates that limiting early voting will cost money. And this reduction in early voting was made, without any evidence of fraud and despite the fact that only a few years prior, both Republicans and Democrats thought it was a good idea. 

 

Make no mistake, cutting Sunday voting was intentional and it was intended to suppress voting. On the Sunday before the election, particularly in communities of color, Ohioans who work long hours during the week go to the polls after church, fulfilling their civic and spiritual obligations on the same day […]

 

Exercising one’s right to vote is a sacred duty. It should not be riddled with additional burdens making it harder.

 

Another burden posed by HB 194 is that it bars poll workers from performing one of their most basic functions—helping voters find their right precinct. This piece of legislation no longer requires that poll workers assist a confused, elderly, disabled, or young voter in getting to their correct precinct.

 

In essence, Ohio’s law discourages neighbors from helping neighbors.  Given our state’s haphazard redistricting process, voters in Cleveland, Toledo, and throughout Ohio will likely show up at their old polling stations only to learn that that they are at the wrong location. 

 

When this happened in the past, precinct workers were required to redirect these voters.  Now, under HB 194, precinct workers will be barred from to telling their neighbors—people that are their friends, colleagues or fellow parishioners—where the correct precinct is.

 

Think of that.  HB 194 discourages Ohioans from helping each other out.

 

Chairman, I will conclude with saying that this is a solution in search of a problem. It is not something we need to do. There was consensus in Ohio that things needed to change after 2004, and the changes which were enacted in 2006 led to shorter lines, more clarity and less frustration for voters.  And while none of the changes that I have mentioned today make it impossible to vote, as a practical matter, they install burdens to voting. Ohio deserves better when it comes to protecting our most fundamental constitutional rights.

 

I thank you very much for coming to Ohio to examine this issue.

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