[Image via magnoliabox]
Ohio’s new Secretary of State is drawing attention after a recent mailing to over a quarter of a million inactive voters yielded just 540 registrations – about 1 in 500. The Columbus Dispatch has more:
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s mailing to thousands of voters recently purged from the rolls under a controversial state law prompted a scant 540 people to re-register to vote.
With printing and postage costs of $130,512, that’s about $242 per voter registration.
“Every vote matters, and that’s why our ‘Fresh Start Campaign’ left no stone unturned,” LaRose said in a prepared statement.
“Moving forward, we’re working on finding ways to modernize our system so Ohioans can update their registration whenever they interact with state government. By doing so, we’ll be fulfilling our obligation to state and federal law to ensure election integrity, all while minimizing the impact to infrequent voters.”
LaRose’s office had no comment on whether the cost to re-register the 540 voters removed from the rolls was worthwhile.
“This was a first-of-its-kind, one-time effort, so predicting the results of the mailing were virtually impossible,” said LaRose spokeswoman Maggie Sheehan.
In March, the secretary of state’s office sent letters and voter-registration forms to 264,516 former voters who had failed to respond to last-chance postcards sent by their county boards of elections in January. Registration forms had to be returned by Monday to be eligible to vote in the May primary election.
• 85,116, or roughly a third, were returned by the postal service as “not deliverable” and “unable [to] forward.”
• 376, or 0.14%, returned their voter registration, confirming the same name and address, including 47 from Franklin County, easily the highest return in the state.
• 164, or 0.06%, submitted voter registration forms with the same name but an updated address.
The mailing was the latest chapter in a long-running dispute in the Buckeye State that eventually found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court:
Under state law, the registrations of voters are revoked once they have not cast a ballot in any election over six years and fail to respond to notices mailed by county boards of elections.
Former Secretary of State Jon Husted directed counties to send notices to inactive voters in January before completing his second term.
The practice had been suspended after critics filed a lawsuit arguing that Ohio’s law removed otherwise-eligible voters from voting rolls. However last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to allow the purges to continue after the November general election.
Critics of the state’s policy are continuing to argue for other registration reforms:
Mike Brickner, state director of All Voting Is Local, an advocacy group committed to protecting and expanding voting rights, said Wednesday that “Ohio’s voter registration system desperately needs to be updated to better serve voters and election officials. Massive voter purges pose a distinct threat to our democracy, and have been shown to disproportionately impact voters of color, low-income voters, and those who move frequently.”
“Nearly half of states have adopted reforms that allow voters to register and update their registration automatically, or register to vote on the same day they cast their ballot,” he said.
Ohioans can update their registration online with the secretary of state’s website.
Despite the low return rate, it seems to me the investment in the mailing was useful in that it demonstrated how few voters want to reactivate their registrations after years of voting inactivity. Given the high cost per voter, the state may want (and appears ready) to consider other approaches that provide these nonvoters with an opportunity to rejoin the rolls at a more reasonable cost to taxpayers. No matter what, you know there will be an argument – it is Ohio, after all. Stay tuned …