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Ohio Will Make Voting Easier, But Not Until After The 2016 Election

A poll worker leads a voter to an electronic voting machine at the Schiller Recreation Center polling station on election day in Columbus, Ohio. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JOHN MINCHILLO
A poll worker leads a voter to an electronic voting machine at the Schiller Recreation Center polling station on election day in Columbus, Ohio. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JOHN MINCHILLO

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a bill this week to allow residents in the key swing state to register to vote online. But the new law includes a narrow voter ID provision, meaning that only residents who have a drivers license or state ID can use it. Additionally, the option will not be available until early next year, after the presidential election, despite the Republican Secretary of State’s insistence that the Ohio could implement the policy immediately.

“There are absolutely no good reasons why this should be delayed until 2017 from an administrative point of view,” Secretary of State Jon Husted told the Columbus Dispatch.

Husted and other officials have noted that Ohio already allows residents who move within the state to update their voter registration online, so allowing new registrants would be an easy change. Though the original bill was introduced over a year ago, and the state has been debating online registration since 2011, Republican leaders inserted an amendment to delay the implementation just a few weeks before the final vote.

There are absolutely no good reasons why this should be delayed until 2017.

Some Republicans told local reporters that they were “more comfortable” making the change after the presidential election

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“They feel this is the responsible way to implement this bill, rather than to interject it in a presidential cycle where if something did go wrong that side of the aisle would point fingers at the secretary,” said Rep. Tim Brown (R-Bowling Green).

But Democrats, including Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent), suspect a political motivation for the 2017 start date.

“We should have implemented online voter registration right away,” she told ThinkProgress. “It doesn’t make sense to wait. The Republicans said they needed to ensure it was implemented carefully and securely, but that is not logical. I believe the Republicans were motivated to delay the implementation so that voter registration would not be easier for this election.”

Ohio’s election administrators say online registration would be more secure and cost millions of dollars less than the current paper system.

Clyde also expressed concern with the law’s strict ID requirement, noting that hundreds of thousands of Ohio residents don’t have a drivers license or state ID card.

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“It’s better than not having online registration at all, but I am certainly concerned about those voters, who are disproportionately elderly, low-income people of color,” she said. “Many students and young people in Ohio will also potentially be prevented from using the system, and they are the very voters accustomed to doing things online.”

Clyde introduced an amendment to allow residents to register online without a photo ID, but it was rejected by the House’s Republican majority.

Next year, Ohio will join more than 30 other states and the District of Columbia in offering online voter registration to its residents. Yet the state is also fighting in federal court to eliminate the so-called “Golden Week” in which voters can register and cast a ballot on the same day. The state was also sued this year for unconstitutionally purging inactive voters from its rolls — a practice that has disproportionately affected low-income, African American, Democratic voters.