Last week’s visit to the Mahon- ing Valley by one of the champions of the civil rights movement was a stark reminder of a time in this country’s history when many of our people were Americans in name only. They were deprived of the most important act of citizenship: Voting.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, was the keynote speaker at Friday’s gathering of the Youngstown-Warren Black Caucus at Mr. Anthony’s Banquet Center in Boardman, and what he had to say harkened back to the days when he was on the front lines of the fight for equal rights for blacks.
“We made so much progress over the years,” Lewis said. “This is a step backwards. It’s not a Southern issue. Citizens must say, ‘Not on my watch.’”
The step backwards is the national campaign by Republican governors or Republican-controlled legislatures to impose new restrictions on voting.
According to the Brenner Center’s 2012 report on changes in voting laws, there are at least 180 restrictive bills that have been introduced since the beginning of 2011 in 41 states. There are 27 restrictive bills pending in six states. Twenty-five laws and two executive actions have passed since the beginning of 2011 in 19 states, including Ohio. The others are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin.
It is no coincidence that several of the states, led by Ohio, are battlegrounds. It is also no coincidence that the restrictions on voting would have the effect of suppressing the votes of individuals who have traditionally supported Democratic candidates. Minorities, senior citizens and college-age voters would have to overcome barriers that are being erected via the laws that have been passed or legislation that has been proposed.
In Ohio, the courts have prevented Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled General Assembly from riding roughshod over the rights of legitimate voters.
But even legal challenges have not dissuaded the GOP from pushing ahead with its anti-voting campaign.
Although every legitimate independent study has concluded that there is no basis for the claim of widespread voter fraud, the proponents of the restrictive laws continue to cling to that canard.
State Rep. Lewis, who suffered a concussion after being hit in the head by a state trooper during the 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Ala., march, told a news conference during his visit to Youngstown that voters should not allow their rights to be trampled on.
He also stressed the importance of early voting in Ohio, which begins today. This state, which is a must-win if Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney hopes to defeat President Barack Obama on Nov. 6, will be closely watched. It has a less-than-stellar record with regard to presidential elections, and given the closeness of the race nationally will certainly be put under the microscope.
Ohio voters who believe they will be unjustifiably prevented from voting on election day, or will have their ballots thrown out, should take advantage of early voting.
“Don’t let anybody stop you from voting,” Lewis said last week. The congressman knows what he’s talking about.