It’s All Happening in Ohio

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[Image courtesy of discoverohio]

Few states get more attention in the election world than Ohio – and the Buckeye State is returning the favor by providing lots of news …

Newly re-elected Secretary of State Jon Husted renewed his call for online voter registration and expressed some optimism that it might just make it through the GOP-Controlled state legislature. According to the News-Leader:

Husted continued to call for state lawmakers to pass legislation to allow voters to register online. Eligible residents already can update their information via the secretary of state’s website.

More than half of voters nationally can register online, he said, adding that his early discussions about the issue with lawmakers have been more promising than past sessions.

“My early conversations have been a bit more optimistic than I would have said they were in the past,” he said.

In other news, Husted’s office also announced that the state’s provisional balloting rate dropped significantly in 2014 – with just 1.56% of the state’s total ballots cast provisionally, down from 2.66% in 2012. The office notes that a big reason for this is the ability of voters to verify and update their voting record online, which cuts down on address-change related provisionals at the polls. More than half of the provisionals rejected were because voters were not registered in Ohio – and about one in four was rejected because the voter was in the wrong polling place.

County election officials are looking to solve this last problem – and cut costs – by proposing a switch to vote centers in Ohio. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the Ohio Association of Election Officials is pushing the state to adopt vote centers:

Ohio voters would lose most of their Election Day polling places under a plan for centralized voting pushed by the head of the group representing county elections officials.

Urban areas such as Franklin County could see a reduction of 60 to 75 percent, translating into a potential drop from the current 404 voting locales to perhaps a little more than 100.

The tradeoffs: Voters could cast a ballot from any polling location in their home county. And the cost to run elections would drop substantially, especially with most Ohio counties due to replace aging voting equipment.

“The more I talk to people nationally, the more I read and learn, this has the potential to be a game-changer for voters, for taxpayers and for elections administrators,” said Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials. “We’ve got to be more efficient. We have to take advantage of technology and think outside of the box.”

The switch would require state law changes – and would likely be rolled out first in pilot form in a handful of counties – but there is interest in and excitement about the potential benefits:

Supporters point out that with the vote-anywhere proviso, residents could cast a ballot over their lunch break near their workplace, or stop at a convenient voting center during their Election Day commute.

“I just think the convenience factor is really super,” said Ann Henkener, a board member of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, which strongly supports the proposal. “As long as you’re in Franklin County, you can’t vote in the wrong place.”

Husted isn’t yet ready to endorse the concept, but he welcomes the discussion:

Secretary of State Jon Husted said he is not sure how easily Ohio voters would accept such a far-reaching change. Some people have been voting at the same township hall or church building for years and might be intimidated by the prospect of going to a larger, less-local regional voting center.

“That’s one of those ‘devil in the details’ things,” he said. “In some cases, people will view it as less convenient for voters.”

Still, Husted said his office could make the new setup work.

“It’s a public debate worth having,” he said.

These are all very intriguing developments, especially given Ohio’s recent reputation for bare-knuckled partisan fights and litigation battles. It will be fascinating to see if and how these various changes make their way into law and practice – and if they do anything to reduce the fractiousness that has characterized election policy debates within the state.

Stay tuned …

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