Monday, August 07, 2006

Meanwhile, in Ohio

All U.S. politics wonks are right now focused on the Connecticut Democratic primary where Ned Lamont is challenging Joe Lieberman for his Senate seat. But politics is happening everywhere, and in Ohio some recent events are worrisome:

For Tony Minor, the pastor of the Community of Faith Assembly in a run-down section of East Cleveland, Ohio's new voter registration rules have meant spending two extra hours a day collecting half as many registration cards from new voters as he did in past years.

Republicans say the new rules are needed to prevent fraud, but Democrats say they are making it much harder to register the poor.

In the last year, six states have passed such restrictions, and in three states, including Ohio, civic groups have filed lawsuits, arguing that the rules disproportionately affect poor neighborhoods.

But nowhere have the rules been as fiercely debated as here, partly because they are being administered by J. Kenneth Blackwell, the secretary of state and the Republican candidate in one of the most closely watched governor's races in the country, a contest that will be affected by the voter registration rules. Mr. Blackwell did not write the law, but he has been accused of imposing regulations that are more restrictive than was intended.

Under the law, passed by the Republican-led state legislature in January 2006, paid voter registration workers must personally submit the voter registration cards to the state, rather than allow the organizations overseeing the drives to vet and submit them in bulk.

By requiring paid canvassers to sign and put their addresses on the voter registration cards they collect, and by making them criminally liable for any irregularities on the cards, the rules have made it more difficult to use such workers, who most often work in lower-income and Democratic-leaning neighborhoods, where volunteers are scarce.

So if a canvasser is paid he or she must personally take all the registration cards in and must also sign for them, and she or he becomes criminally liable, too. As far as I can tell the same regulations do not apply to volunteer canvassers:

"Quit whining," said the Rev. Russell Johnson, the pastor of Fairfield Christian Church, who chuckled while shaking his head. "We work with the same challenges that everyone else does and we're not having trouble."

Surrounded by cornfields and middle-income homes, Mr. Johnson's 4,000-member evangelical church in Lancaster, Ohio, is part of a coalition of conservative groups that aims to sign up 200,000 new voters by November, he said.

In the past several elections, Republicans have been effective in registering voters and getting them to the polls. Mr. Johnson said conservatives were better able to depend on voter registration volunteers because the conservatives had a message that attracted people who were willing to work free.

This whole thing reminds me of the favorite strategy of the pro-life state governments, which is to saddle all reproductive health care clinics with so many legal requirements that they can't possibly satisfy them all and then will be closed down.