Early voting, a key element in President Barack Obama's victory in 2008, is under fierce attack by the Republican Party. With the GOP dominating 21 more state legislatures than they had a year before last November's election, voter suppression efforts are being undertaken in many of them.
The sharpest attacks are in the South and Midwest. In Florida, a law introduced by State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and signed into law May 18, would reduce early voting from 14 days to eight. Florida's law also eliminates voting the Sunday before the election, a measure that, as the New York Times suggests, is aimed at voters going from church to the polls. In addition, it restricts provisional ballots, which have allowed voters whose addresses have changed to update at the polls.
In North Carolina, Georgia and Ohio, state legislatures are considering similar bills. North Carolina's has cut a week off the time period allotted for early voting. Georgia Republicans propose a cutback from 45 days to 21. Ohio also seeks a reduction to 21 days.
North Carolina's historic shift into the Democratic camp in the 2008 presidential vote, one of several in the former Confederacy, was won by a hair. Pointing to the significance of early voting, the Times notes that in that race "more ballots were cast before Election Day than on it."
In Ohio, the new measures are aimed to go into effect just prior to a statewide referendum on Senate Bill 5, which outlaws collective bargaining. A Cleveland Democrat put it squarely: "This bill in its current form is oppressive, it is racist, it is discriminatory and it raises constitutional concerns," said Sen. Shirley Smith.
Thinly disguised racist appeals dominate the debate, with charges of voter fraud aimed at ACORN, immigrants and birther bills aimed at President Obama.
In some states, like New Hampshire, voter suppression efforts like ending same-day student voter registration have been rebuffed. In others, like Texas and Florida, more comprehensive efforts, including requiring voter IDs, are about to become law. However the battle is far from over, with likely legal challenges in all of them.
With a close election on the horizon, the fight in each state is extremely important. Now is the time to join the phone banks, call elected officials, lobby and march.
How it all plays out may well determine the direction of the country for some time to come.
Photo: Korean Resource Center // CC 2.0