Pundits, politicians, and publicists all agree: Ohio is crucial to any national election. And this year, Ohio is just one of many states that has had to grapple with legislators’ attempts to restrict voting rights. In 2011, state legislatures across the country considered, and ultimately passed, a range of voter suppression legislation, including photo ID and proof of citizenship requirements, cuts to early and absentee voting, and more.
Luckily, Ohio may offer a glimmer of hope for those of us fighting to safeguard voting rights. Voters around the Buckeye State are taking to the streets, circulating petitions that would allow a referendum to be held on Ohio House Bill 194, a bill passed in June 2011 that would severely limit voters’ access to the ballot box by limiting early voting, prohibiting poll workers from assisting voters completing election forms and ballots, and making it more difficult for local boards of elections to promote early voting to all registered voters.
Among the voters most impacted by cuts to early voting are African-American churches that use early voting on the Sunday before Election Day to take van-loads of people to the local board of elections. Many of these people are working class Ohioans who couldn’t leave their job, or find childcare to vote on Election Day. But under the new law, boards of elections are not allowed to host early voting on Sunday.
People are quickly organizing petitions in all corners of the state. I signed the referendum petition myself last weekend at a church on the east side of Cleveland. A whole team of volunteers were holding signs and talking to passersby about the legislation. Voters came from miles around—the woman in line in front of me made an hour long drive from the Akron area in her minivan with a group of friends because she “just couldn’t wait to find a petition in my town.”
This typifies the excitement many people are feeling right now. While the legislature and governor passed laws restricting our right to vote, Ohioans are not content to sit idly by. Many people feel that we can — and will — stand up for our rights and bring this bill to a statewide vote. In a time where the legislature, courts, and other elected officials are doing little to stop these types of bills from going into effect, it’s comforting to know the people are still willing to exercise their own veto power.
The stakes are high — petition circulators must get 231,000 valid signatures by September 29 to prevent the law from going into effect on September 30. If they do manage to get the signatures, the dangerous legislation will be placed on hold until it can be voted on during the November 2012 presidential election.
Check out our map: Voting Rights Under Attack