Nearing the Finish Line? Ohio Legislature Could Soon Enact OVR

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[Image via cleveland.com]

Few stories in the world of election administration have been as interesting in recent years as the repeated efforts by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to convince the state legislature to follow the national trend and adopt online voter registration. Now, it appears he may finally be close to getting his wish. The Columbus Dispatch has more:

After years of inaction, lawmakers are getting closer to having Ohio join most other states in allowing people to register to vote online, saving government money.

“Online registration can boost participation while improving efficiency, ensuring accuracy and preventing fraud at the same time. It’s a classic win-win,” Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley, told a House committee on Tuesday.

The bill, which the Senate passed 31-1 in June, expands the current system that allows voters to update their home addresses online — a system that Ohioans have used 295,000 times since August 2012.

Secretary of State Jon Husted has argued for years that online voter registration would be more secure, convenient and accurate in addition to being less expensive than current paper registrations. The bill is backed by county elections officials, county commissioners and veterans groups.

Time is growing short, but it looks like Husted might finally be making headway against the usually fierce partisan headwinds:

Husted urged the House to move the bill by the end of February to ensure that his office has enough time to get the system up and running, and that voters have enough time to use it before the presidential election. A bill signed into law in late February wouldn’t take effect until the start of June, and voter registration for the Nov.8 election ends on Oct.11.

“There is no reason this shouldn’t be completed and out of the legislature by the end of February,” Husted said. “I don’t want them to wait until the last minute.”

But Republican legislators, particularly in the House, have been slow to move on the bill. Some Democrats have argued that the reason is concern that online registration will lead to an increase in registrations by those who lean Democratic, such as college students.

Husted said, “It gives a benefit to the political party that actually goes out there and tries to get people to register to vote, which they do anyway. I don’t think this gives any benefit to anybody.”

Nothing is certain until the Legislature actually enacts a bill, but OVR is halfway there with Senate approval and indications the House will move soon:

The House GOP caucus has not set a definitive timeline on the bill, but one probably will be soon, said Brad Miller, spokesman for Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville.

Only Ohioans with state-issued driver’s licenses or identification cards would be able to register online because information would be cross-checked with Bureau of Motor Vehicles records to verify eligibility. Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, expressed concern about that requirement, but LaRose said it’s also the only way to verify a person’s signature online.

Online registrants would provide their address, date of birth and the last four digits of their Social Security number.

Traditional paper registrations would remain available.

Interestingly, Husted is seeking legislation even though there are suggestions that Ohio – like other states – could implement OVR without legislation:

Clyde also argued that state law allows Husted to go ahead with online voter registration now, without the bill. He disagreed, saying the bill is needed so the BMV can legally share a person’s signature with his office.

“Let’s just pass the bill. This doesn’t need to be controversial,” Husted said.

OVR in Ohio would be significant on a variety of fronts: adding Ohio to the growing roster of states using it, evidence that dogged pressure by election officials can push legislators to act – and, if and when the bill passes, a sprint to have it in place in time for the November presidential election.

Ohio’s a big state both in population and importance – and this story will be well worth watching in the weeks to come.

Stay tuned …

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