By Kirk Clay
We All Want To Do the Responsible Thing
If you noticed a person pushing a car up a hill would you help them? What if it was in the sweltering heat and that person was somehow different from you? Would it matter if they were a Democrat or Republican?
It didn’t for my baseball teammates in Toledo. Once while coming home from practice, we noticed a man having problems with his car. He started to push his car towards a slight declining hill. My teammates and I didn’t hesitate to lend a hand. We asked if he needed help. Before he could answer us, the car started rolling backwards. We didn’t wait for his answer. We all got behind the vehicle and began to push the car back towards the hill.
We didn’t know much about fixing cars in those days but we knew that if the vehicle was pushed in the right direction and someone turned the ignition, the engine would start. That is called popping the clutch. So, that’s just what we did. We all pushed and once the car began to pick up speed while rolling down the hill, we didn’t care which one of us jumped into the driver’s seat to pop the clutch — as long as we got the vehicle working again.
Voting reminds me of that car. It is one of most important vehicles that Americans have for getting from one place to another — or for influencing the policies that affect our lives. Therefore, when people need help voting, we should make every effort to help them because it makes our democracy work better.
I wish that was the logic behind Ohio’s new law which restricts early, in-person voting. The new law sets the Friday evening before election-day as the deadline for voters to early vote in-person. This law turns a blind eye to the thousands of voters who historically vote during the three days before Election Day. It dampens the impact of early-vote campaigns by many organizations who take advantage of that last weekend to urge voters to vote early. Ohio is one of 32 states that allow voters to cast an early ballot by mail or in person without an excuse. This increases civic participation and strengthens our democracy.
As we know, voting early helps to ease the long lines on Election Day — something that makes headlines every election cycle. In 2000, the lines were so long in many places around the country that precincts closed before voters could cast their ballot. Nearly a million voters—close to 3% of all registered voters—had this experience. This led to legal contests in St. Louis which affected the outcome of the Missouri’s U.S. Senate race. By closing the polling places before everyone in line was able to vote, many voters were disenfranchised. Voters who made extraordinary efforts to go to the polls were denied ballots due to no fault of their own.
Each of the nearly 200,000 polling places nationwide will handle about 500 voters on Election Day. Since we only have about 700,000 workers at the polls, early voting is an effective way to make sure that voters are not disenfranchised. In 2008, more than 1.7 million Ohio voters cast ballots early – close to 30% of all ballots. For 2012, Election Day is predicted to be more taxing as America gears up for record-breaking voter –turnout. This is especially of concern for voters of color (VOC).
According to the National Urban League’s “The Hidden Swing Voters” report, Voters of Color (VOC) could turnout in an even higher rate. The study proposes that if African-American registration rises to 78.3% we could see 3 million more African American voters in 2012.
The Latino community grew to 50 million in 2010 while the Asian American – Pacific Islander (AAPI) population increased to 5.2% of the national population. If those demographic trends materialize, VOC could make up more than 23% of the eligible electorate.
In swing states like Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia, there is a significant VOC population. These states were GOP strongholds until recently. Also, each state turned blue as the demographics began to change. There is strong evidence that political geography is the reason that Democrats improved their 2000 performance by more than seven points in each state. Moreover, experts believe that Virginia’s and Nevada’s recent purple propensities are powered by the 55% and 71% AAPI growth since 2000.
Population growth is an essential factor in predicting turnout. The Ohio law is based on the misconception that VOC will not be 17% of the electorate in 2012. As an unintended consequence, Ohio may disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters. Worst yet, this will turn a blind eye to the profound and chronic problems of race and discrimination in voting practices.
Our ultimate goal should be to pass laws that expand democracy to every American. It’s clear that we need a coalition of compassionate Whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Women, Unions, and Young Voters acting together to widen the circle of freedom so that the American promise of liberty and justice for all is realized by all. That’s popping the clutch.
Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC
- Obama Campaign Calls Ohio Early Vote Law Unconstitutional (bloomberg.com)