Better Late Than Never? Ohio House Finally Ready to Adopt OVR … in 2017


[Image via notonthehighstreet]

It was a good news/bad news kind of day for online voter registration in Ohio yesterday.

The good news is that the Ohio House seems ready, finally, to adopt online voter registration at the behest of Secretary of State Husted. The bad news is that legislators now want to wait until next year for the law to go into effect. The Columbus Dispatch has more:

The ability to register to vote online won’t be available to Ohio voters until next year, after House Republicans altered a bill that supporters hoped would provide the option immediately.

Secretary of State Jon Husted, a key supporter of the bill, would operate the online registration system and has said repeatedly that his office is ready to implement it now, as soon as lawmakers pass the bill.

But with a presidential race in November, House Republicans decided to wait until 2017 before giving Ohioans the option of online registration, as is already available in 31 states.

Delaying implementation of OVR isn’t necessarily out of the norm – other states like Florida have done the same thing – until you remember that the House has had the bill since last year:

Rep. Tim Brown, R-Bowling Green, the committee chairman, acknowledged that Husted has indicated the system is ready to go.

“We had mixed views on the committee,” he said. “It just felt like in a presidential year, it was maybe appropriate to roll it out in a non-presidential year.”

The bill has been sitting in the House for almost a year, after passing the Senate with broad bipartisan support. [emphasis added]

House Democrats were quick to lament a lost opportunity, but SoS Husted is being a good sport – recognizing, perhaps, that late really is better than never:

Democrats on the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee, including Rep. Mike Curtin, D-Marble Cliff, objected to the change.

“It’s a shame we can’t offer this convenience that voters in 30-plus other states enjoy,” said Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent. “I don’t see any reason to delay. The system is already built. It doesn’t make any sense not to open that up to all voters for this upcoming major election.”

Online registration would use a slightly modified version of secretary of state’s current online system that allows voters to change their voter registration when, for example, they move. The key difference is that Ohioans would have to check a box giving permission for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to release their signature, which will be used at the polls to help verify their identity.

“While I’m disappointed we won’t be able to offer online registration to new voters in time for the presidential election, I do appreciate the work members of the House are doing to get the initiative passed this year,” Husted said.

“Moving this legislation forward is good for voters, good for taxpayers and good policy for Ohio. My administration will be ready to switch it on as soon as lawmakers give us the authority to do so.”

The delay notwithstanding, it really is good news that the Ohio House is finally ready to move on OVR. SoS Husted and his team have been tireless in moving it forward – courting local support (and editorial boards) across the Buckeye State in an effort to get the change adopted, if not this year. And don’t get me wrong; I understand that legislatures have their own ways of working – which sometimes includes a slower pace in an effort to build consensus. But it is a little frustrating for Ohio legislators to sit on a bill for a year and then decide there isn’t enough time to pass it despite the SoS’ assurances that he’s ready to go.

It also isn’t yet a done deal; after almost a year of waiting I’m sure SoS Husted and other OVR supporters will feel better when the House formally adopts the bill and begins the process of working with the Senate to send a bill to the Governor. If the current pace is any indication, 2017 may be an ambitious goal.

Stay tuned.

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