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Published: Wednesday, 6/15/2005

Suppressing the vote

LEGISLATION being pushed quickly through the General Assembly appears to have one prime motivation - to make it harder rather easier for Ohioans to vote.

In addition to introducing partisan voter registration for the first time in state history, House Bill 3, sponsored by Rep. Kevin DeWine (R., Fairborn), contains a whole slew of provisions that would throw up obstacles to voters and those who wish to register others to vote.

Especially troubling is talk around the Statehouse that Republican leaders intend to amend the bill to require ex-felons to get a court order to restore their right to vote.

Even Florida, no model of election reform, discarded this exclusionary practice after it was used in the contested 2000 presidential election to turn away thousands of voters, including many who were improperly put on a state list of ex-felons.

There was little doubt that the intent of the law in Florida was to suppress turnout among black voters. Adopting it in Ohio would be a serious step backwards, a return to Jim Crow laws of the past.

Other unnecessary provisions include several that would lead to increasing use of provisional ballots and to require registered voters to show identification in order to cast ballots in certain cases. There is even talk of requiring a photo ID from every voter at every election, even though fraudulent voting has never been a serious problem in Ohio.

Voter registration drives would become problematic and probably increasingly rare under a provision that would make it a felony to return a completed registration form anywhere other than directly to the registrant's county board of elections.

Current law conveniently allows registrations to be sent to any board of elections or to the secretary of state's office for forwarding. There is no reason to make the process more difficult, unless the intent is to suppress voting.

Most of the problems reported in the 2004 presidential vote stemmed not from fraud but from lack of knowledge on the part of inexperienced poll workers. However, House Bill 3 contains no provisions to require extensive training needed for election officials.

Moreover, as we have argued before, disrupting Ohio's time-tested system of nonpartisan voter registration in favor of allowing registrants to declare a party is just one more unnecessary obstacle to participation in the political process.

In short, House Bill 3 would be more harmful than helpful to the conduct of elections in Ohio. It ought to be defeated.

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