A key fact in the story of the big shrink is Ohio voters is that there used to be 757,998 more registered voters eight years ago than there are today. The Northwest territory state that once was a growing destination for people looking for unbounded opportunity they couldn’t find elsewhere is today among the slowest growing states.
Census Bureau stats show Ohio’s population in 2013 at 11,570,808, which represents an increase of 34,305 residents or 0.3 percent since 2010. Only three states—Vermont at 0.14 percent, Michigan at 0.12 percent and West Virginia at 0.07 percent—had lower or slower population growth rates.
With a population growth rate this low, it’s hard to explain why it lost hundreds and hundreds of of thousands of voters over a relatively shit time span.
Twelve years ago when Ohio’s election system reputation was badly damaged based on allegations that made a plausible case for then Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell rigging the election enough to give George W. Bush a narrow victory over Democratic candidate John Kerry , there were 7,972,826 registered voters. That figure climbed to 8,287,665 in 2008, when Ohio helped elect Barack Obama. Each election since has seen voter rolls tumble to last year’s figure of 7,529,667.
Paying Attention To Ohio’s Shrinking Voter Rolls
Some are taking note and action on what’s happening.
Reports say that Demos and the ACLU of Ohio have filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) against Ohio’s secretary of state. The two organizations want Ohio to stop illegally removing voters from its voter registration rolls in violation of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).
“In 2015, Ohio conducted a massive purge across the state,” Andre Washington, the President of the Ohio APRI chapter, said. “In Cuyahoga County alone, approximately 40,000 individuals were unlawfully purged merely for choosing not to vote, and a disproportionate number came from low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.”
The lawsuit makes its case that Ohio is violating the NVRA by canceling the registrations of voters who do not vote in three successive federal elections or in the intervening local elections, a practice Ohio calls the “Supplemental Process.” In the filing, Demos and Ohio ACLU allege that these voter purges have resulted in the widespread disenfranchisement of eligible Ohioans.
Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at Demos, said, “Under the Supplemental Process, Ohio is removing eligible voters from its rolls for no reason other than their failure to vote. Naifeh, who is representing the plaintiffs with the ACLU, added, “This unlawful practice must stop, and it must stop now. Without immediate court intervention, many Ohio voters will find themselves denied this fundamental right when they go to the polls in November.”
Daniel P. Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, says the “The Supplemental Process” violates federal voting rights law and explains why Ohio purges so many more voter than other states. ACLU of Ohio attorneys, Paul Moke and Richard Saphire, add the expert views: “Ohio’s Supplemental Process is as unnecessary as it is illegal. Ohio already uses Postal Service information to ensure its voter rolls are up-to-date. There is no legal basis for purging eligible voters simply because they have not voted.”
Another pair of eyes is focusing on the decline of voters. David Pepper, Chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, is blogging about it at Huffington Post.
“It’s not silly to want to ensure that every eligible voter is registered, every registered voter is able to vote and every vote is accurately counted,” wrote Pepper, who lost a statewide race for auditor in 2010 and another in 2014 for attorney general. “When more Americans vote and participate in the political process, our democracy is stronger. Our nation is stronger. Our community is stronger. That’s why through actions like the current case and others, Ohio Democrats will keep fighting to protect the right to vote.”
Of great concern to Mr. Pepper and others is that 2016 will mark the first presidential election in more than 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. Republicans in Ohio and other states, Pepper says, “haven’t wasted any time taking advantage of this window of opportunity to make it harder to vote for students, women, seniors, people with disabilities and communities of color.”
Gov. John Kasich, who’s engaged in his second try at the White House since his first one flopped in 2000, has signed into law bills that restrict voting rights. Gov. Kasich is pushing his narrative of bringing people together, but his record on bills about voting he’s signed into law clearly show that when it comes to voting, he’s not for bringing more people together if it means they also get to vote. Mr. Kasich didn’t hesitate to sign one bill into law that made it much harder for third parties and their candidates to get on the ballot, which was so transparently self-serving that it got dubbed the “John Kasich re-election protection act.”
Then, as recently as as few months ago, state election officials attempted to take away the right to vote from Ohioans who will turn 18 before the general election in the fall. Pepper notes that has been the law since 1981, but a directive from the top sought to prevent 17-year-old voters from casting a ballot for president. Several 17-year-olds challenged the directive in court, and a judge sided with the teen voters in striking down the errant directive.
When nearly 800,000 fewer voters are on the rolls today than they were just eight years ago, it’s a phenomena to take note of, given Ohio’s status as the biggest presidential battleground state of them all. When voter turnout is high, the chances that Democratic candidates win rise. It follows, then, that when voting goes down because voter rolls are purged, GOP candidates have a better chance.