And Then There Were Twenty: Ohio and Three Other States Join ERIC

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On Monday, Ohio’s Governor signed legislation to add the Buckeye State to the list of states that will offer online voter registration to their eligible residents. Yesterday, Ohio took another step to modernize its voter registration process by joining the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). The Dayton Daily New has more:

More than 1.5 million Ohioans who are eligible to vote but haven’t registered will get an invitation in August to join the voter rolls and thousands who have died or moved out of state will be dropped, under a new partnership between the Ohio Secretary of State and a national non-profit organization.

Secretary of State Jon Husted predicted on Tuesday that the total number of registered voters will climb beyond the current 7.6 million and the records will be more accurate as Ohio — once again — undergoes the added scrutiny of being a crucial swing state in a hotly contested presidential election.

“Our goal has always been to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat in Ohio,” Husted said.

Ohio will join 18 states and the District of Columbia participating in the Electronic Registration Information Center, a national non-profit formed in June 2012 to focus on maintaining accurate voter registration records. It is funded by the Pew Center for the States.

ERIC states cross check voter files against Social Security death records, driver’s license and vehicle registration records and other databases. Pew is awarding Ohio a $400,000 grant to cover most of the cost of sending notice about the easiest path to register to an estimated 1.5 million to 2.25 million Ohioans who are eligible but not yet registered.

ERIC – which also added Wisconsin, West Virginia and Alaska to its membership yesterday to grow to 19 states and DC – assists states by identifying both ineligible voters on the rolls as well as eligible residents who are not registered:

In Ohio, as in other states, counties maintain the voter rolls and sends updated information to the state. Voter registration records are routinely checked against Bureau of Motor Vehicle driver’s license and state ID records as well as death records from the Ohio Department of Health.

Joining ERIC will allow Ohio to check records against other member states and national data such as the U.S. Postal Service’s national change of address records. Ohio will get notice if Joe Buckeye moves from Cleveland to Pittsburgh and registers to vote in Pennsylvania.

Other ERIC states include: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Alabama, Louisiana, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

It’s worth noting that unlike OVR, which doesn’t take effect until next year, Ohio’s ERIC membership will have an impact on this year’s election. The Columbus Dispatch looks at the likely impact on the rolls:

The endeavor … also will clean up Ohio’s voter rolls, which include an estimated 80,000 who are also registered in other states and 360,000 who need to update their registration because they’ve moved within Ohio.

So in the end, will the effort generate more or fewer registered voters?

“That’s the $64,000 question,” said David Becker, Pew’s director of election initiatives.

Becker said when other states signed up with the Electronic Registration Information Center, the twin efforts to register new voters and purge those ineligible essentially wound up canceling each other out.

However, Husted said because of the efforts already taken by his office to eliminate the names of dead and ineligible voters, Ohio’s registration rolls are likely to swell. Regardless, it will be a better list with a higher percentage of truly eligible voters, he said.

“We believe it is a robust and secure system that’s going to help improve elections in Ohio,” Husted said. “When the voter records are up-to-date opportunities for voter fraud decrease, polling place wait times are cut, fewer provisional ballots are cast and more ballots are counted.”

I’ll be curious to see if Ohio’s experience is what they expect, given the intense scrutiny that always accompanies elections in the Buckeye State in presidential years. Still, kudos to Ohio and the other states that joined ERIC yesterday – it’s an opportunity to use the concept of “strength in numbers” to improve voter rolls across state lines.

Stay tuned …

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