One of the great things about being a columnist is how we can revisit issues over months and even years.
One of the frustrating parts of being a columnist is how often we have to revisit the same issues over months and even years.
Voting rights, for example. Unfortunately, a perennial topic.
On Jan. 19, 2004, I was two years into my job as a columnist at The Plain Dealer when editors agreed to publish a voter registration form next to my column on the issue. It had been a bit of an adventure getting there.
Days earlier, Ohio’s Republican secretary of state at the time — who was also an “honorary” co-chair of President George W. Bush’s reelection campaign here — had tried to stop residents from using our published form to register to vote.
Again, this was in 2004.
From my column that ran that day:
“We started by calling Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell’s office. Had we stopped with that call, thousands of eligible voters would not be able to register using our newspaper’s form.
“I didn’t actually speak to Blackwell, who did not return my call. Instead, his press secretary, Carlo LoParo, said voters could not use our form because of paper weight restrictions. When I pointed out that the Ohio license bureaus use voter registration forms that violate the weight restriction, he said he’d have to call me back.”
“Instead, his deputy, James Lee, called to say the problem is that election board officials would have to transfer the information off the Plain Dealer forms onto official forms, send them back to the voters for their signature again, and ‘that could delay the process.’”
“On that we agreed: It would definitely delay the process. In fact, it could stop a lot of voters from ever setting foot in a polling booth.”
Fortunately, the seven county boards of election in our circulation area didn’t agree with the secretary of state: All of them said they would accept the form, and when we conveyed this to Blackwell, he backed down. Thousands of new voters used our printed form to register.
In this presidential election year, President Donald Trump is increasingly attempting to intimidate voters into not voting. He is doing this because low voter turnout is the only way he can win.
I am not going to repeat his many claims about voting, because the last thing we need is an echo chamber for his lies. The president of the United States wants you to have no faith in our election. Who is he working for? Certainly not you.
Last week, I was rummaging through a file drawer when I came across an old folder labeled “Readers Will Surprise You.” I had kept it during my nearly two decades at The Plain Dealer.
One letter stopped me in my tracks for a moment.
On the same day that we published that voter registration form — Jan. 19, 2004 — a male reader from Cleveland wrote a letter to me. It was handwritten on a white piece of school notebook paper — all caps, double-spaced:
“THANKS FOR PUBLISHING THE VOTER REGISTRATION FORM JAN. 19, OF WHICH I’VE FILLED OUT AND MAILED. IT WILL BE THE FIRST TIME IN MY 75 YEARS. I WON’T BORE YOU WITH DETAILS AS TO WHY. NO PRESIDENT HAS ENRAGED ME AS THIS PERSON BUSH, AND HIS CREEPY ADVISORS. I UNDERSTAND WE ARE IN A RACE TO SECURE NATURAL RESOURCES WITH OTHER EMERGING COUNTRIES (CHINA) BUT THIS MAN IS SO CRUDE AND TRANSPARENT IT’S SICKENING. ANY BODY BUT BUSH IN 2004.”
“REGARDS, FRANK (last name redacted)”
He was 75 years old and had never voted. He saw our registration form in his morning newspaper and decided to become a voter.
Sixteen years later, his letter remains a message of hope: Never give up on anyone.
If you know someone who is not yet committed to voting, please make that person your project between now and Election Day. In many states, including here in Ohio, the registration deadline is fast approaching. Start there.
As I said, some issues never go away. Once again, a Republican is trying to stop eligible citizens from voting.
This time, he’s the president of the United States.