The state that hosted the Republican National Convention this week is in the midst of several legal battles over voting rights, as its Republican leaders attempt to slash the number of early voting days and purge inactive voters from its rolls. In Ohio, a crucial swing state, the fate of these policies could decide whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton sits in the White House next year.
At the same time, Republicans’ official 2016 platform goes further than any previous version in calling for restrictions on when, where, and how people cast their ballots. The platform also blasts civil rights groups and the Justice Department for challenging these restrictions in court.
Though the platform does include a few platitudes promising to “protect the voting rights of every citizen” and taking “appropriate steps to allow voters to cast their ballots in a timely manner,” it calls for the adoption of laws that several federal courts have found to be unconstitutional.
“We support legislation to require proof of citizenship when registering to vote and secure photo ID when voting,” the document reads. “We strongly oppose litigation against states exercising their sovereign authority to enact such laws.”
The platform also encourages states to adopt the Interstate Voter Registration Cross Check Program “to keep voter rolls accurate and to prevent people from voting in more than one state in the same election.” That program has been found to be full of errors and has blocked the participation of eligible voters in several states, including Ohio.
One of the key officials to shape the platform was Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a man who has spoken to white nationalist groups, worked for a designated hate group, and zealously and in some cases illegally restricted the right to vote in his home state.
Kobach and the GOP’s justification for the voter purges, ID laws, and citizenship requirements is the threat of voter fraud, despite the fact that multiple national and statewide investigations have found such fraud to be almost nonexistent.
Ohio officials and former officials told ThinkProgress they believe the GOP’s true motive for championing these rules and restrictions is to suppress the votes of those likely to vote against them this November.
“The Republican Party in Ohio never gives up on their efforts to make it more difficult to vote for poor people and old people and minorities,” former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland told ThinkProgress, noting that those groups of people are more likely to depend on the availability of early voting and same-day registration and less likely to have a government ID.
The voter purge Ohio Republicans are currently carrying out also disproportionately impacts lower-income voters of color. An investigation earlier this year found that among the more than two million people dropped from the voting rolls, those in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods are being purged at about twice the rate as those in Republican neighborhoods.
“The way they are going about it is unconstitutional,” Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) told ThinkProgress. “It’s just another attempt to try to keep all the people who won’t vote for them from voting.”
When speaking about the voter purge, which is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit, Fudge and other officials emphasized that “there’s no question that it could” decide the election in Ohio, which could in turn determine the national results.
Rep. Stephanie Howse, who represents Cleveland in the Ohio statehouse, told ThinkProgress that her constituents who were purged were mailed notices by the state, but those who frequently move may not have received or understood them.
“Right now, there are tens of thousands of people who might not even know it who are not even registered to vote anymore,” she said. “It’s very intentional, to further the interests of a certain group of people. So we have to work extra hard to reach out to these communities and make sure they are registered to vote. We have to go door to door, person to person, church to church, to get people to exercise their rights.”
Though Ohio’s population is split almost exactly in half between Democrats and Republicans, Republicans enjoy super-majorities in both the House and Senate in Columbus. There, they have passed several measures over the past few years designed to restrict the ease of voting in the state. One proposal that was just vetoed by Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) would have forced residents to put up a cash bond of thousands of dollars in order to keep poll open in an emergency such as a natural disaster or power outage. Another proposed having ballots thrown out for small, technical errors. Yet another would have cut state funding to public universities that provided students with a voter ID.
Meanwhile, the few policies Ohio lawmakers have approved that make voting easier, such as online voter registration, have been delayed until after the 2016 election.
Howse told ThinkProgress she will cite these actions to help shake her more apathetic constituents and encourage them to turn out this fall. “I always tell people, if voting wasn’t important, why are people working extra hard to make sure you can’t vote?”