Ohio still improving elections processPublished 9:56am Thursday, April 30, 2009
The Ohio Secretary of State’s office continues to partner effectively with local elections officials to improve and refine our processes.recommend
It was in this spirit that my office worked with the respected Brennan Center for Justice of the New York University School of Law to convene the first Ohio Elections Summit in late 2008 and the expanded Elections Conference this past March.
The result of this bi-partisan process is the Report on Enhancements for Ohio’s Elections.
I believe the recommendations in this report, which has been presented to Gov. Ted Strickland and the Ohio General Assembly, will build on the success that Ohio saw in administering the 2008 presidential election while putting in place enhancements for future elections.
The report’s recommendations focus on several areas: cost-saving measures for local elections boards; enhancements to the Statewide Voter Registration Database; the streamlining of Ohio’s voter-identification laws and of provisional balloting; and expanding the number of early-voting locations.
Here are some of the specifics.
On the issue of cost savings, the report recommends that Ohio move special elections to primary or general election days, a move that would save voters and taxpayers as much as $5.4 million annually.
The report also suggests allowing the use of vote-by-mail for vacancy in office special elections.
According to the report, other proposals that merit consideration include limiting state issue ballot language length, creating buying pools so that counties could take advantage of buying election supplies and materials more inexpensively and implementing a voting centers pilot project that would allow any voter in a jurisdiction to vote at any polling location in the jurisdiction.
On the Statewide Voter Registration Database, the report advocates finding a new process to match voter-registration records with records at the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the federal Social Security Administration as a step to help verify voter identity.
A form of access to relevant non-matches for local elections officials, along with rules on how to treat these non-matches should be developed, our report recommends.
It is important to specify that a non-match could not, in and of itself, be the basis for disenfranchising a voter.
Another recommendation made in the report is that Ohio bring its confusing voter ID laws into line with the thinking of other states that focus on the verification of identity, and not address.
Specifically, the report recommends that either an official photo ID or two non-photo IDs be able to be used for voting purposes. The report concludes that such a change will provide voters and elections officials with greater predictability in the administration of Ohio’s voter ID laws.
The report urges limiting the period for in-person early voting to 20 days before a general election as opposed to the current 35 days.
That change would be coupled with an increased number of early locations, from the current one that’s allowed to four. The report also recommends ending early voting no earlier than 5:00 p.m. the Sunday before Election Day.
The report recommends limiting the reasons voters are required to vote a provisional ballot and increasing the instances where that ballot is counted.
Additionally, the report recommends altering the so-called “Wrong Precinct Rule” by allowing any ballot cast anywhere in a county to be remade and counted if cast by an eligible voter.
To lower the administrative burdens on local elections officials, the report also recommends creating an annual vote-by-mail ballot request form. Right now, most voters must submit a vote-by-mail ballot request form before each election if they wish to vote absentee.
Change can be difficult and developing a consensus for change is even more difficult.
I hope this report is helpful as state lawmakers and others deliberate on the very important issues of improving elections administration into the future.
I believe this comprehensive report provides a roadmap for positive change for the voters of our great state.
Jennifer Brunner is the Ohio secretary of state. She lives in Columbus. She can be reached at email@example.com