The following is a guest post by Sylvia Bly, a Cleveland Working America member.
Recently, I went to a U.S. Senate field hearing in Cleveland about House Bill 194. I heard arguments for and against HB 194, a bill that’s a real stinker to me. Its main objectives are to make it much harder to cast your vote, count fewer votes and remove local control for each county.
The courtroom was pretty formidable, but once the hearing started, I was transfixed on the due process I was witnessing. This hearing went to the heart of the issue: HB 194 would impede voters from exercising their rights. Listening to Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), our own Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH) was inspiring, but it also dredged up some memories of a time of great turmoil in our nation.
I remember when I was a young girl and Jim Crow laws were in place in the Southern states. Jim Crow laws, which existed until 1965, were all about a “separate but equal” status for African-Americans. During the ‘60’s our nation was embroiled with civil unrest between those who wanted to keep minorities “in their place” with all the economic, educational and social inadequacies, while others fought to right these wrongs. I think about how my own mother was born a mere nine years after women won the right to vote. So now in Ohio and across the nation, we’re witnessing new legislation to turn back the clock and erase so much of the progress that’s been made to empower all of us to fully participate in our elections.
HB 194 was supposedly introduced to address voter fraud. But how come, when asked, none of the panelists in support of HB 194 could present a single documented case of such fraud? That reinforced my suspicion that the real reason for HB 194 is voter suppression. If I had my say, any legislator who wants to introduce a bill that restricts my opportunities to vote should have to prove the need for these changes. Otherwise whatever party is in office could finagle legislation in favor of their own party’s agenda. That’s not democracy, people.
Abraham Lincoln said it best in the Gettysburg Address when he wrote that our government is a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Every provision in HB 194 is a huge step backward and undermines the very foundation of our Republic. I’m having such a difficult time comprehending how any legislator who takes an oath of office to ensure their constituents’ inalienable rights would work to get around not just the letter of the law, but more importantly, the spirit of the law. We pay their salaries with our tax dollars; these legislators are supposed to be working for us.
After Ohioans worked hard to gather over 300,000 signatures to put this bill to a vote, House Republicans voted to repeal HB 194. Not only did they prevent the people of our state from having their say, but the GOP also left in place provisions that eliminated voting the weekend before the election. Now it seems to me that if a bill is going to be repealed, it should be repealed in total. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to buy a CD, burn your favorite songs and return it? That’s why return policies were written and are enforced. Meanwhile, our referendum is null and void. It’s amazing to me how our legislators have decided they have no rules and don’t have to answer to their own constituents.
I guess my fellow Working America members and I need to work even harder to make sure our elected officials in Columbus are listening to working families across the state. Join me and become a super activist in Ohio.