Hundreds of college students are among the more than 2,100 names that tea party groups have sought to remove from Ohio’s voter rosters.
The groups and their allies describe it as a citizen movement to prevent ballot fraud, although the Republican secretary of state said in an interview that he knew of no evidence that any more than a handful of illegal votes had been cast in Ohio in the last few presidential elections.
“We’re all about election integrity—making sure everyone who votes is registered and qualified voters,” said Mary Siegel, one of the leaders of the Ohio effort.
Many Democrats see it as a targeted vote-suppression drive. The names selected for purging include hundreds of college students, trailer park residents, homeless people, and African-Americans in counties President Barack Obama won in 2008.
The battle over who belongs on the voter rolls in Ohio comes as supporters of Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, are making elaborate plans to monitor the polls and mount legal challenges after the Nov. 6 election if necessary.
Obama’s re-election campaign and Romney allies are already fighting in court over Republican efforts to block Ohio voters from casting ballots the weekend before the election.
In 2008, Ohio’s final weekend of early voting drew tens of thousands of African-Americans to cast ballots, mainly for Obama.
The racial dimension of the 2012 clash over weekend voting burst into the open last month when one of Ohio’s most powerful Republicans, Franklin County GOP Chairman Doug Preisse, told the Columbus Dispatch, “We shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine.”
Many Democrats see the developments in Ohio as part of a national drive by Obama’s opponents to minimize turnout of his supporters, one that includes efforts elsewhere to impose new voter ID rules.
“Too much of this is going on for this not to be a coordinated effort,” said Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party in the tea party stronghold of southwestern Ohio.
The Rev. Rousseau A. O’Neal, one of a group of black ministers from Cincinnati who provided buses to take African-Americans to the polls in 2008 and plan to do so again in November, described the tea party project and the curtailment of weekend voting as “bigotry of the highest order.”
“Who ever thought we’d be fighting for the right to vote in 2012?” he asked.