Ohio's Inconsistent Ballot Law Enforcement Endangers Collegiate Voting Rights
This election season has seen an unprecedented surge in youth participation: young people are working on campaigns, getting informed about the issues, and most importantly, voting. For example, the New Hampshire primary boasted a youth turnout rate of 43 percent, compared to just 18 percent in 2004. The results of the primaries and caucuses thus far show that young adults have supported the winners for both parties by the largest margins of any age group. Clearly, we’re paying attention to what is going on in the presidential race, and are invested in the outcome.
Here in Ohio, we have college students working to turn this state for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Mike Huckabee. What makes these efforts more remarkable is that many of these out-of-state college students will find their own attempts to vote blocked by stringent voter identification laws that purport to reduce voter fraud, but instead, mostly just reduce voting.
Ohio has unnecessarily interfered with the election process before, such as in 2004, when Former Secretary of State Ken Blackwell decreed that all voter registration forms were to be printed on 80 lb stock paper. Many otherwise valid registration forms were not counted, while others, such as those delivered to the board of elections in Cuyahoga County, were counted because the officials decided to ignore the rules, stating, “We don’t have a micrometer at each desk to check the weight of the paper.”
Why is it that these kinds of unfair voting laws are allowed to exist? There are multiple answers to that question, but the most obvious one is that voting isn’t a constitutional right. In the infamous Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore (2004), Justice Scalia wrote, “The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States.” Perhaps this is why our “right to vote” is trampled upon so frequently — it isn’t a right.
There is something we can do about this, and it is to follow the lead of Congressman Jesse Jackson and support H.J Resolution 28, the Help America Vote Act. H.J Resolution 28 is a constitutional amendment to give every United States citizen who is at least 18 years old the right to vote. This includes ex-felons, citizens living in Washington, D.C.; Puerto Rico; Guam and the Virgin Islands. The Act also empowers Congress to set minimum electoral standards for all states to follow, and provides protection for those who may be disenfranchised.
We need electoral reform to take place on a national level, because leaving the process open to the states has led to inconsistencies that we should not tolerate in this country. In four states, ex-felons are barred from voting for life. This amounts to five million Americans, including nearly two million African Americans living mostly in southern states, who will never again cast a vote. Contrast this with Maine and Vermont, and you’ll discover that an individual can vote not only when they get out of jail, but when they are actually in jail as well. Why are ex-felons in the south different from ex-felons in Maine? They’re not, but we allow them to be treated unequally anyway.
The United States is currently engaged in nation-building efforts in the Middle East, and it appears that we’re at least getting one thing right over there; voting is an explicit right in Afghanistan’s Constitution as well as Iraq’s interim legal document. It is also a right in 108 of the 119 nations that allow democratic elections. It seems bizarre, then, that the United States is one of only eleven democratic nations in the world that do not guarantee a right to vote in their constitution.
We take the right to vote for granted in this country and are surprised when our ballots are not counted correctly or our registration forms are thrown out because they were not printed on the right kind of paper. A more fitting response would be to make the Help America Vote Act an issue with our congressmen, and demand that H.J Res. 28 be voted on in Congress. Voting is the foundation of democracy, and ours cannot continue to rest on unstable ground.
And on the off chance that the constitutional amendment is not passed in the next two weeks, I encourage everyone to fill out an absentee ballot request form and slide it under the door of Wilder 330 sometime very soon. Ohio’s March 4th primary matters more than ever, and while voting isn’t actually a constitutional right…there’s no reason we shouldn’t act like it is.