One of the basic principles of international fair election standards is that the people running for elected office should not be allowed to set arbitrary rules that govern the actual election process. Historically this often leads to politicians manipulating the election process to give themselves (or their party) an unfair advantage at the polls.
One clear example of this is the changing of the voting hours, places, and procedures to favor the party in power. Regrettably such practices have a long history in this country, and numerous laws and constitutional restrictions have been put into place to prevent this type of manipulation. For example, a poll tax, which would limit the number of poor minority citizens voting, has been explicitly prohibited by the 24th amendment to the Constitution.
A recent article in the NY Times highlighted another tactic being used to manipulate the voting in Ohio to give one party an advantage over the other. Six days of early voting have been eliminated, and same-day registration will no longer be allowed. Blacks participated in early voting at a higher rate than whites. The Republican secretary of state then declared that no early voting will be allowed on Sundays, which was a particularly popular day for blacks to vote. Absentee voting and the use of provisional ballots will also become much more difficult. Democrats in the state strongly objected of course, and may challange the new rules in court.
This situation is not unique to Ohio. A number of other state legislators have recently passed laws making it more difficult to register and to vote, in a thinly veiled attempt to reduce the number of voters in groups likely to vote for their opponents. Sometimes a desire to reduce voter fraud is sited, but in reality the number of confirmed voter fraud cases is so extremely small it has been jokingly described as being “only slightly higher than the number of people convicted of unauthorized time travel”.
In the spirit of promoting fair elections and the participation of the maximum number of interested voters, we need to actively oppose any attempts by legislators to make registering and voting more difficult. The ultimate solution is to take decisions about the election process, including establishing voter districts, out of the hands of officials running for election and hand these operations over to an independent and neutral voting commission. That would allow us to at least come closer to meeting the internationally recognized standards for fair elections.