I know a lot of Americans are so sick and tired of partisan fights from the debt ceiling debate that they just can’t wait to watch some football and forget about politics until Iowa next year. Unfortunately, unlike football politics is always in season and the kickoff to the 2012 shenanigans begins with a blood and guts, in-the-trenches battle in Ohio that will be a bellwether for Obama’s success in his re-election bid next year.
Ohio is a funny place when it comes to electoral politics, especially on the presidential level. It is almost impossible to win the White House without winning Ohio, but at the same time the state flips governors from Democratic to Republican and swings for Republican or Democratic presidents faster than you can say “Ken Blackwell cheated.”
Like many states in the fall of 2010, Ohio saw a blood red sweep from top to bottom, with Republicans taking the governor’s mansion, most of the top statewide seats and the state legislature. This is particularly shocking since John Kasich’s victory over Ted Strickland was fairly slim but he still ended up with almost absolute power to push through policy in the state. The result of this has been a concerted effort on the part of the GOP to push through policies that are not only examples of core conservative principles but also direct attacks on any constituencies that might support Democrats, statewide or nationally in the future. That’s why the Obama campaign has decided to plant their flag smack dab in the middle of the Buckeye state this fall.
Avid news watchers have probably already heard about SB5 in Ohio, which was essentially the same anti-union bill that is causing Wisconsin to go into conniptions since Scott Walker was elected. But there is a lesser-known but equally important bill that passed, HB 194, that could radically alter next year’s elections. The bill, if fully implemented, would severely hinder voting opportunities for citizens in the state, targeting the poor and less mobile, essentially key Obama voters.
In one fell swoop, the bill would: Shorten the window to vote by mail to just 21 days, shorten the in-person vote window to just 17 days, eliminate the period where voters can register and vote on the same day, mandate that you cannot early vote the week before an election, and, if that wasn’t all Jim Crow enough for you, the law forbids poll workers from directing you to another polling station if you accidentally arrive at the wrong one.
Needless to say, these aren’t truly “reforms” by any stretch of the imagination, but simply slow and steady attempts to chisel away at voting rights progress that has occurred over the last 15 years in America. In particular, early voting is one of the main reasons that turnout has actually increased in American elections over the last decade and was instituted in large part to limit some of the problems that occurred in 2000.
Organizations across Ohio have been rallying to put a referendum on the ballot this fall that would repeal the bill for this upcoming election. Progress Ohio, the ACLU and, yes, now even Obama minions, are making the repeal of this bill the most important election for the fall of 2011. Of course, why is Obama sending millions of dollars and his team to collect signatures to get a repeal vote on the ballot in Ohio when he was relatively silent in Wisconsin, Michigan and other states when anti-union bills were coming through? Because in the end, it’s about voting. The Obama administration is obviously lukewarm on unions given their tepid support in the past, but they certainly are not going to stand by and let a state push through a bill that will limit voters, which is what the president needs to get re-elected.
In the long game of presidential politics, 2012 is likely the end of the road for the state of Ohio. Diminishing population, the flight of the industrial base and tech jobs, mixed with the rising electoral vote counts of states such as North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado after the last census have all made Ohio pretty close to obsolete. The need to stump through Cleveland and Columbus will be more symbolic than strategic by the 2016 elections, but in this last race the crucial votes of this state still might matter. Therefore team Obama is going to do everything they can to make sure that Ohio’s last swing voters are all in camp in time for the election.