The dust has barely settled on our local 2011 elections, which answered one question: Can you get re-elected if you are to the right of a Tea Party candidate for Butler County Commission? Thanks for clarifying that, former members Leslie Ghiz, Chris Bortz, Amy Murray and Wayne Lippert.

Now it's time to buckle up for hotly-contested presidential and U.S. Senate campaigns. Our region will be ground zero in a full photon torpedo barrage in 2012 from multiple Super PACs, parties, candidates and their surrogates. The Chamber of Commerce has already begun a media bombardment to soften up U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown for his showdown with Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel.

Sadly, despite polls that put approval for Paris Hilton above Congress, we will not get a meaningful vote for the U.S. House of Representatives. Don't expect the fireworks seen in 2008 and 2010, when the 1st District swung from red to blue to red again.

Slice and dice

Our beneficent Ohio General Assembly took care of that "problem," by redrawing the lines of our local congressional districts to make sure that only a scandal of Wiener "dimensions" could keep Steve Chabot or Jean Schmidt off those weekly flights to D.C. for the next decade. Computer-generated lines that dip, swirl, and slice and dice voters from Harrison through Warren County will give the GOP as firm a lock on the 1st and 2nd districts as Vladimir Putin has on the Kremlin.

And drawing funny lines is not all that the folks in Columbus have done in an effort to rig next year's elections.

Since our founding, when only white male landowners qualified, the arch of public policy has expanded the franchise. First came women. Then racial minorities through the 1964 voting rights act. A few years later, 18-20 year-olds were added to the mix.

In 2006, Ohio adopted "no excuses required" absentee voting, which made voting more convenient for all of us. Early voting amounted to 25 percent of the total here in Hamilton County in 2008, when 71 percent of us showed up to vote.

Too Inclusive?

But the election of Barack Obama ignited a reaction in Ohio to reverse the trend to broader participation. Some folks clearly believe that too many folks are showing up at their party.

With the GOP in firm control in Columbus, new laws emerged in 2011 designed to make it harder to vote. Polling places have been consolidated, confusing voters and increasing lines. Unnecessary and confusing ID requirements have been added, though no one seemed to mind taking my word for my "identity" when Ronald Reagan's name was on the ballot.

HB 194 shrank the time for early voting, and denies Boards of Elections the right to distribute absentee ballot applications, though robust absentee voting reduces costs and lines on election day. A group called Fair Elections Ohio gathered more than 300,000 signatures to put that voter suppression exercise on the 2012 ballot. (Disclosure: I am Treasurer of FEO).

In apparent reaction to long and enthusiastic lines of predominantly African American early voters the weekend before the 2008 election, the General Assembly passed HB 148, that ends early voting on the Friday before the election.

Uncounted votes

All of this has a very real impact. Last November, local absentee voting fell to 17 percent, and 452 qualified Hamilton County voters had their votes disqualified because of confusion about where their votes should be cast. That number alone was more than the difference between Bush and Gore in Florida in 2000.

These new laws, and related interpretations of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, guarantee that the votes of thousands of qualified Ohioans will go uncounted in 2012. The unanswered question for 2012 is whether their lost votes decide who will occupy the White House in January 2013.