House Bill 159: Obstructing Your Right to Vote in Ohio

Breaking News:

On July 13th a compromise bill was brought forward, House Bill 224. This bill does not include the requirement to present a photo-ID to vote or the requirement to give one’s full social security number to register to vote. This new bill does however remove the option to register online to vote. This means that for now House Bill 159 is not actively being considered for passage. However, as has happened in the past, this bill or a version thereof may again be presented as soon as the fall of this year, requiring all of us to pay close attention and be ready to act. In this most recent struggle, action reaped results- for now. The following article explains what House Bill 159 or another bill like it would mean for citizens of Ohio, please read to be prepared.

by Mark Grauhuis & Kyle Galindez

Ohio residents are facing yet another challenge to their civil rights. If House Bill 159 is enacted, Ohio will have one of the most restrictive voting laws in the country.

If passed, the law will disenfranchise nearly 900,000 Ohioans, targeting students, seniors, people of color and low-income voters who have been hit hardest by the recession. This new bill follows hot on the heels of SB 148 and HB 194.

Make no mistake, these are voter suppression bills that cripple in-person voting, prohibit Ohio’s 88 counties from mailing absentee ballots to all voters, or to pay the return postage, and prohibit counties from providing voting hours on Sunday, Saturday afternoons, and the Monday before Election Day. The new bill also prohibits local board of elections officials from designing systems to meet the needs of their own communities, such as setting up more convenient voting sites.

The new bills mandate prospective voters to show at the polls government-issued photo ID, cuts down on early voting (slashing the timeframe for early in-person voting from 35 days to 17), and make it more difficult for Ohio voters to cast their ballots.

The purposes of such cynical bills are to dramatically scale back the window for early voting and eliminate county-level flexibility to craft innovative, pro-voter policies. 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. Alternative forms of identification were devised by the legislature when it initially started to require photo identification at the polls to give people the ability to vote who do not have a drivers license and no other reason to have a State issued identification card.

The Republicans refuse to discuss an amendment that would accept a college student ID with a photo from the student’s own state-funded university. If the laws pass, over 600,000 students in Ohio would be prohibited from using their student IDs to vote.

In addition, the “Miscellaneous” section of HB 194 sneaks in a measure that explicitly prohibits any public school from transporting students to a polling place during regular school hours for the purpose of casting a ballot.

One of the worst sections of HB 194 eliminates a poll worker’s responsibility to direct you to your correct voting precinct. They are actually barred from answering questions or providing directions to voters. And, if you get to your polling place and the worker sends you to the wrong table, your vote will not count.

As the ACLU of Ohio puts it, voters are then “guilty until proven innocent, by assuming that all errors are voters’ errors.”

The consolidation of districts is also making it extremely difficult for many citizens to transport themselves to the voting booth.

Republican Ohio State Rep. Robert Mecklenborg’s HB 159 a dead ringer for American Legislative Exchange Council’s Voter ID Act (see, and a stricter version of a bill signed into law in Rhode Island.

The Dearborn County Prosecutor’s Office recently released an embarrassing video of Mecklenborg being stopped by police and failing a DUI test. The lawmaker had a .097 blood-alcohol level and had traces of Viagra in his system. The 59-year-old married father of three failed to cooperate with the police and also refused to explain why he had a 26-year-old female stripper in the car.

If the law is passed, Mecklenborg, who should have had his license confiscated at the time of his arrest, may be a victim of his own legislation. He renewed his Ohio driver’s license four days after his DUI arrest and lied about the arrest on the application form.

Ohio Rep. John Adams (2010 ALEC “Legislator of the Year”) continues to push for the most restrictive voter ID bill in the country.

GOP Governor John Kasich, a founding member of ALEC, is himself the beneficiary of a dubious vote count in 2010. Neither the Ohio Association of Election Officials, nor Secretary of State John Husted (R.), Ohio’s chief elections officer, have thus far endorsed the bill.

It is clear that one of the two major parties are poised again to steal the election of 2012 by rigging Ohio’s electoral process. Since 2000, the Republicans have eliminated more than a 1.5 million voters from the Buckeye state voter rolls. The purges have been centered on urban voters. In 2004, hundreds of thousands of additional voters in Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland were disenfranchised by orchestrated bottlenecks at polling stations that forced people to wait seven hours and more in line.

The new bills mandate practices designed to lower turnouts as much as possible.

These are draconian measures, recalling the poll tax of earlier centuries and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, and are part of a national strategy to undermine the election process and make it harder for the poor and minorities to exercise their civil rights. Florida Governor Rick Scott (R), for example, is trying to reverse past precedent and prevent convicted felons from voting even after they have completed their sentence.

Elsewhere, the Democrats have allowed the Republicans to directly attack a rising Latino and Asian population in various parts of the country, by sending the U.S. back to the era before the Voting Rights Act. One U.S. state after another seems to becoming immovable one party entities at the statewide level, making a travesty of the system of representation. With regressive voting rules, there can be no platform on which any voice for the people could address mass audiences other than through punditry.

On this past sweltering Monday afternoon, Cincinnati residents held a protest outside the Board of Elections, followed swiftly by another in Dayton. In attendance were members of various student and community organizations, the Labor Council, UFCW, the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, Common Cause Ohio, the League of Women Voters, the AMOS Project, and local ministers.

The message was clear from the signs present: “One Vote is My Voice.”

Doug Sizemore of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council spoke of HB 159 as “one of the most destructive laws,” at a time when “all efforts should be towards recovering the economy,” and not shutting out those who most need to be heard.

Bentley Davis, staff project coordinator at SEIU District 1199, promised those gathered that “the fight will go on.”