'No on HB 194': Activism, fatigue, and the GOP's latest disenfranchisement law
Since the Wisconsin recalls there has been quite a bit of commentary about how folks want a break from politics, and maybe a campaign to oust Scott Walker early next year should be postponed. Some of it is just garden variety concern trolling by conservatives who understand just how devastating the recall losses were and are looking for a nice, nonpartisan message to stanch the bleeding.
Some of it, though, is a sincere effort by liberal activists to figure out the best way to proceed. Emily Mills has a particularly good post grappling with it. She makes two points at odds with right wing messaging: 1) She ultimately argues for a recall campaign in the near future, but thinks a pause for several months is good strategy, and 2) Activism requires, well, activity. We don't just vote on election day, then disappear; we need to be committed to an ongoing process of civic engagement - the only question is what form it will take.
Activist fatigue for Ohio came to mind late last week because another referendum effort landed on our plate. In a funny way our big dates and Wisconsin's have alternated. First they had the recall signature campaign. After that we had our signature gathering to get the citizen veto of SB 5 on the ballot. Wisconsin just had its elections. Our big one comes up on November 8th. Then it looks like some time in the first half of next year Wisconsin will take its shot at Scottie.
Perhaps sensing that Ohio activists would need some new way to kick John Kasich's ass after Wisconsin is done with Walker, the state GOP passed a voter suppression bill that would not be eligible for citizen veto until November 2012. Here are some of the details on this latest effort from the Jim Crow Republicans:
It invalidates a vote where a voter properly marks the ballot in support of a particular candidate, but also writes in the name of that same candidate; eliminates satellite locations for early voting; dramatically reduces the time allotted for early voting; eliminates the ability of counties to provide return postage on absentee ballots; prohibits poll workers from telling voters they are in the wrong precinct, and that their ballots are not counted if they vote at an incorrect location.
Together with a prohibition against mailing unsolicited absentee applications, this represents a whole lot of new ways for the right to keep citizens from voting. This in a state where over 14,000 votes were not counted in 2008 because they were cast in the wrong precinct. If conservatives were really concerned about the sanctity of the vote it would seem this large and very real problem would be much bigger cause for alarm than the nonexistent one of vote fraud.
Last Thursday I attended a local "No On Issue 2" coordination meeting and as it happened that was the day the ballot language was approved. Naturally it was a big topic of conversation. One local Democratic leader, looking back at last November's gubernatorial election, characterized it this way: "They looked at every area [Ted] Strickland did well - and went after it."
So now, less than two months after submitting 1.3 million signatures for the SB 5 veto, we have another signature gathering effort. The dynamics are a little different on this one, though. Since it's a governance issue and not a pocketbook one there is less of a sense of urgency about it. It poses a long term threat to democracy in the state, but because there is not the same immediate and drastic effect that ending the right to collective bargaining will have, it is not generating the same visceral backlash.
Many of the same people who worked on the SB 5 effort are actively supportive of this initiative, though it is not a We Are Ohio effort. While there is a broad recognition that the issues are linked, and the impact will be felt by smaller political parties trying to get a foothold, the overall sense is that this one effects Democrats most directly. So the state Democratic party along with Organizing For America have taken the lead on this. Once again we need to get 231,000 signatures, but now it's less than six weeks until the deadline.
That means finding a way to support the Issue 2 outreach as well as getting HB 194 on the ballot for next year. On the positive side, it will give us something to do next summer. But it comes at a time when activists like myself already thought our time and energy were spoken for. Which will mean a certain amount of juggling for the next few weeks - and another reason to be ready, come November 9th, for a little break of our own.