Fear and Laughter in Ohio

It’s incredibly interesting – and I’ll even go ahead and call it cool – to live in a swing state. I can sum it up with one simple fact: at 36 years old I have personally laid eyes upon four U.S. Presidents. That averages to once every nine years. Back in 2007 I cut a conference I was attending to go listen to a fiery young African-American first-term junior senator who had the audacity to run for president. I managed to shake his hand. If didn’t live in Ohio, I don’t know that this would have happened. Sure maybe it amounts to nothing more than contrived speeches and empty rhetoric, but there’s something cool about seeing the President.

In other words, the attention is nice.

There’s a downside, though. Until a few weeks ago I thought that the worst part of living in a swing state is being responsible for the extra four years of President George W. Bush and the postmodern ridiculousness that is Joe the Plumber, who after finding himself a sudden media sensation after he challenged Mr. Obama with a tough question and was whisked away on Senator McCain’s doomed campaign, insists that his fifteen minutes are not, in fact, up and is considering a run for congress.

I’ve learned of late that I was incredibly naïve. There are far worse things about living in a swing state, especially when the Republican Party has decided to play dirty pool.

What’s at stake in Ohio is nothing short of the people’s right to vote. The past several months have seen several bills signed into law by Gov. Kasich(1) that are very clearly aimed at suppressing the vote. They have cut the time for absentee voting from 35 days before the election to 21 and early voting from 35 to 17 days. Just yesterday, Ohio Secretary of State John Husted, a Republican, said that early voting would end at 6PM on the Friday before the election, even though most polling places in Ohio are incredibly busy on the Saturday before Election Day.

Current Ohio law requires poll workers to direct voters to their correct district to vote. A new law would leave that option up to the worker. But if you vote in the wrong precinct, your vote won’t be counted, giving poll workers the power to influence elections. Another provision in the same law states that the voter, not the election officials, are at fault in any legal proceeding or administrative review of any voter error, essentially making the voter guilty until proven innocent.

And perhaps the silliest change: if a voter fills in the oval for a candidate and also writes in the name of the candidate, the vote won’t be counted. Two positives make a negative I guess is the failed logic here.

The reason given for these changes has ostensibly been to prevent voter fraud, though there really isn’t much in the way of voter fraud going on that anyone can see. Not on this side of the voting booth. But it’s clear that these changes are meant to restrict and disenfranchise exactly the primary demographics – the young, the elderly, the low-income – who voted for President Obama.

I don’t understand how this is okay. I don’t understand how Governor Kasich can look himself in the mirror. They are purposefully aiming to take away one of Americans’ primary rights: the right to vote. I don’t understand how the entire Republican Party has not been taken to task for this.(2)

But I mostly certainly do not understand how Mike Huckabee can come to Ohio and cracked a joke about it.

“Make a list…Call them and ask them, ‘Are you going to vote on Issue 2(3) and are you going to vote for it? If they say no, well, you just make sure that they don’t go vote. Let the air out of their tires on Election Day. Tell them the election has been moved to a different date. That’s up to you how you creatively get the job done.”

This is horrible, not because Huckabee made the joke, but because other people laughed. People in Mr. Huckabee’s audience laughed with his suggestion – not at it, mind you – because everyone knows that’s what the Republicans are trying to do. It’s only funny because a) he said it aloud, and b) because it’s true. So by laughing they admit that stripping people’s basic American rights is perfectly acceptable.

People in other countries literally put their lives on the line to have a say in who runs their countries, and this after going to war to secure that right in the first place. But here, in Ohio, we laugh at the idea of taking that right away. We laugh at the thought that this is an effective strategy. We laugh at having found a whole new way of stealing office, at stripping away people’s rights.

I guess this is nothing new. The pursuit of happiness is a right many homosexuals do not have. Not to mention women. And the under-privileged. The right to live without fear is something that anyone bullied in school does not have. The right to marry the person you love is at risk – or non-existent – all over this supposedly great land for wildly varying reasons. So whittling away the right to vote is just one more thing to take away from those who don’t have much anyway.

Living a swing state isn’t cool any more. It’s shameful. Today I’m ashamed to be an Ohioian. For the first time ever, I really want to leave. I’ve defended this state to people for years. I feel like a fool.

  1. Some of these are now up for referendum. Others are pending referendum review. But it doesn’t matter. The point, as you’ll see, is to confuse and disenfranchise. If voters are sure which are actual laws and which are up for vote, the same goal is achieved.
  2. Well, I sort of understand. Democrats, the only other real option, are too busy crying about how they lost and thinking about how they could have won to look around them and realize there’s some highly unethical stuff going on right in front of them.
  3. I’ll save Issue 2 for another day. I haven’t the stomach for both of these atrocities on the same day.

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