By J. STEVEN DILLON
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
Too few advances in election law have come since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson during the height of the civil rights movement, an Ohio State University law professor said Thursday.
At a Law Day gathering sponsored by the Findlay/Hancock County Bar Association, Daniel Tokaji of the university’s Moritz College of Law said the long history of voting rights, while a fundamental principle, has not always been a happy story.
He also suggested courts and lawyers have not necessarily been heroes in the struggle to prohibit discrimination in voting.
“The right to vote is considered a fundamental principle,” he said. “But a citizen’s rights can’t be protected unless they’re given the opportunity to vote.”
Just as blacks and minorities were once prevented from voting, Tokaji said there are still efforts to suppress votes.
He believes voting rights have been stagnant or have regressed over the years.
Tokaji, who specializes in election law, said both political parties have worked at different times to keep voters from opposing parties from casting ballots by seeking partisan changes in voting laws.
Legislation seeking strict voter ID requirements, for example, can result in fewer low-income citizens and minorities from voting.
The practice of gerrymandering, or aligning legislative districts to favor one party, has contributed to the cynicism of voters, he said.
“Today, our elections are over after the primary,” he said. “Whatever party is in power does it, but it doesn’t do any of us any good for our right to vote.”
Recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings striking down limits on campaign spending by corporations and individuals send the message that money buys elections. “The greatest obstacle to equality in our society is money,” he said. “Money is part of our capitalistic society, but when inequalities bleed into the voting process, it can be a problem and it’s something that deeply threatens democracy.”
Tokaji suggested lawyers, regardless of their politics, can be heroes by working to protect individual voting rights and by volunteering in the election process.
Also at Thursday’s breakfast, Findlay attorney Dave Kuenzli was honored for 50 years of legal service, and Judge Allan Davis was recognized for 40 years serving as Hancock County Juvenile and Probate Court judge.
Davis has previously announced he will retire at the end of his current term.
Law Day activities were also observed at seven area schools, where outreach programs were held.
Presenting programs were attorneys William Alge, Sarah Corney, Nicole M. Busey, Melissa LaRocco, Kimberly Thomas, Aaron Ried and Magistrate Karen Elliott.
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