Every vote counts.
At least that’s what we have always been told.
But federal challenges to election laws in several states may finally tell us whether every vote really does count or, as many fear, not every vote will.
In Ohio, provisional ballots make up the nexus of the battleground. Provisional ballots are cast when there is some issue that may keep a voter from casting a regular ballot, for example a missing entry on voter rolls, a name change that was never recorded (i.e. after marriage or divorce) or the lack of proper ID.
A lawsuit filed by lawyers on behalf of several groups, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is challenging a provision in Ohio law that bars votes filed in the wrong precinct from being counted even if it is proved the voter was following instructions from a poll worker.
Challenges are also expected from Democrats and Republicans alike over early voting and extended polling hours, with Democrats generally pushing for more opportunities to vote while Republicans seek to restrict them.
Additional suits have been filed in Colorado and Florida to challenge purges of voter rolls. Florida, Texas, Wisconsin and several other states sought to ban the use of student IDs as voter identification. Florida has even tried to limit “third party” organizations, including student groups, from registering new voters.
Pennsylvania has a voter ID law that will require students to use “valid” student IDs, defined as ID cards with expiration dates, which most colleges and universities don’t have. Voting rights advocates have been working with colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and states with similar laws on the books to add stickers to the IDs to keep students eligible to vote.
It should come as no surprise that either party may want to stack the deck so that its candidates win. But in the gamesmanship of politics, someone seems to have forgotten the constitutional right to vote and the hard-won efforts of black and poor people to be active participants in the governance of their lives on a local and state level, as well as in national elections.
Keep in mind, though, that nine of the 11 states with photo ID voter laws have Republican governors.
A bigger challenge looms as a record five federal lawsuits were filed this year challenging the constitutionality of a provision in the Voting Rights Act that prevents some state and local governments from enacting new voter ID requirements, redistricting plans and similar proposals on grounds that the changes would disenfranchise minorities.
The plaintiffs include the states of and some individual communities in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and Texas. They are seeking relief from the Supreme Court. According to NPR.com, some justices in a previous ruling questioned the continued need for parts of the landmark act, which helped break down barriers to voting imposed primarily in southern states. The court has received two of the cases on appeal and might take them up in the fall term.
Ohio Assistant Attorney General Aaron Epstein argued last week in federal court that the number of any potentially discarded ballots in the 2012 election as a result of voting rule changes would be too small to merit investigation by federal courts.
So an officer for the state is admitting that some votes are expendable, like collateral damage. The principle of one man-one vote, he is saying in essence, is a flexible concept.
“As a community-based organization that has registered over a million new voters over the years in our efforts to increase African American participation in the political process, we recognize that these new laws are clearly voter suppression tactics that threaten the right of citizens to participate in the democratic process,” Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, said in a statement about a Florida judge’s decision to block portions of Florida’s election law.
“These restrictive laws are not addressing fraud, they are modern-day poll taxes designed to remove eligible voters from our democracy.”
The coalition has a series of efforts to enfranchise voters and encourage communities to become more engaged in registration and voter turnout efforts.
Some organizations have been buoyed, however, rather than washed out by these moves to curb voting. They contend that the saying that every vote counts does indeed have merit.
“You think your vote doesn’t matter? Then why are they trying so hard to take it away from you?” Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, a group that works to register young voters, told The Associated Press. “It does demonstrate the power they have.”
Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”