Putting the Brakes on Voter Supression

Voters in most states have little recourse to combat the onslaught of restrictive voter-ID laws Republican majorities have passed in 2011. For the most part, they'll have to wait until the 2012 election to replace their legislators and hope that these laws (such as photo-ID requirements and repeals to same-day registration) can be taken off the books. But a number of states will tackle voter suppression directly via ballot referendums. Last month, both Maine and Mississippi tested restrictive voting laws through popular votes; in Maine, voters overruled their legislators and reinstituted same-day voter registration, a major win for voter-rights advocates. But in Mississippi, things took a turn for the worse; voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring photo identification for access to the ballot.

Ohio is up next after organizers gathered more than 300,000 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot next year. The state's Republican majority had passed severe restrictions to the state's early in-person and absentee voting laws. Before, Ohio had a 35-day window before Election Day in which citizens could cast their vote through either method. It was a wildly popular measure; 30 percent of Ohio votes in 2008 were either early or absentee votes. Without this referendum, that number would have certainly been lower for 2012. Claiming that the old laws were too burdensome on local officials, Republicans gutted the early voting laws with a measure that reduced the period to 21 days of mail-in voting and just 14 days of in-person early voting. That law is now on hold until voters offer their opinion with the referendum next fall. As the vote against collective-bargaining restrictions proved last month, Ohio liberals have a knack for organizing campaigns to rebut Republican restrictions, and it could help drum up support for Democrats in a key swing state for Barack Obama's re-election.

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