March 23, 2011- While Ohio public employees' rights to bargain collectively are under siege, the Ohio Republican Party executed a perfect sleight of hand by disenfranchising nearly 900,000 Ohio voters. In the most vicious and direct attack on voting rights since Bull Connor ran amok in the deep South, Ohio House Republicans passed HB 159 that requires Ohio voters to produce one of four state photo IDs at the polls.
The only IDs that will be accepted in Ohio if this bill passes the overwhelming Republican State Senate are a U.S. passport, a U.S. military ID, an Ohio driver's license, or an Ohio state ID. This is the most restrictive standard in the nation.
The Republican Party's target is obvious. Studies indicate that 25% of African Americans nationwide do not have a government-issued photo ID, 18% of voters over age 65 do not have a photo ID, and 15% of voters with incomes under $35,000 lack the ID as well. Besides going after blacks, the elderly and the poor, the bill also sets its sights on college students. What do these people have in common? They tend to vote Democratic.
The Republicans refuse to discuss an amendment that would have accepted a college student ID with a photo from their own state-funded university, including The Ohio State University, one of the nation's largest institutions of higher education.
Usually cautious critics like Dan Tokaji, Professor of Law at Ohio State's Moritz College of Law, offered dire assessments: "'Disenfranchisement' isn't a word to be used lightly. But it is necessary to capture this bill's purpose and impact. Passage of this bill would restore our state's unfortunate reputation as our nation's capital of vote suppression."
The Republicans are justifying their assault on the most basic and fundamental right by invoking the myth of "voter fraud." Not only have academics like Lori Minnite documented in detail the absence of voter fraud in U.S. politics, Tokaji addressed the issue in Ohio: "The only documented case of impersonation I could find in recent Ohio elections involved absentee voting by a mother pretending to be her daughter. This isn't surprising. The few people who attempt voter impersonation aren't likely to risk criminal prosecution by showing up at the polling place; they are much more likely to vote by mail. The bill won't do anything about mail voting fraud."
Ohio Republicans have frequently cried "voter fraud" while at the same time they've hired their political allies like Triad, ES&S and Premier voting systems (formerly Diebold) to secretly count Ohio's vote with proprietary computer hardware and software.
The only way to understand House Bill 159 is to acknowledge its historical significance as the new Jim Crow, which is an even more insidious form of apartheid. This new apartheid encompasses African Americans, and also fits into a deliberate attempt by Ohio Republicans to wage class war against the Buckeye State's most vulnerable citizens.