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Published: Friday, 10/28/2005

No on State Issue 2

STATE Issue 2, the proposed "no-fault absentee voting" amendment to the Ohio Constitution, is one of those ideas with the best of intentions - increased voter turnout - but with the potential for the worst of outcomes - manipulated elections.

Issue 2, if passed, will install in Ohio's constitution a provision that would open up absentee voting to every eligible registered voter in the state, for up to 35 days prior to the election. A critical change from current Ohio law would provide that for the first time no applicant would have to give a reason for doing so.

Absentee voting has been long established for one basic reason only - to protect the voting privilege for those citizens who knew in advance that they would be out of their home county on Election Day.

Over the years, of course, it has become something more than that, as Ohioans who don't wish to be bothered to go to the polls simply fib about their Election Day plans, receive an absentee ballot, and vote early by mail.

Ohio law already makes that easy for them by providing a host of excuses - 16 in all - for voting absentee: military service, health and disability issues, work-related conflicts, and age (62 or older), among them.

Issue 2, in our view, would lead to a troubling extension of that phenomenon.

Something profoundly important is lost when citizens stop voting at the polls. Stepping into the voting booth is a personal and private act, a moment in time when each voter is free to make up his or her own mind without interference from anyone else. All the lobbying, all the campaigning, all the commercials are over. It is time to decide, and nobody else is privy to the decision that is made.

Citizenship should require a certain amount of effort by the citizens who profess to value it. Maybe for some people convenience trumps the overt act of going to the polls, but we would hate to see the precious privacy afforded at the neighborhood precinct diminished further.

The state of Oregon's experience with liberalized absentee voting and voting by mail is instructive. Two years ago an exhaustive study of Oregon's then-five-year-old vote-by-mail initiative concluded that turnout had indeed increased slightly, but largely through the retention of existing voters and not through the recruitment of new ones. For that matter, Oregon already had a history of high voter turnout.

Ohio, as we are constantly reminded, is a state with sharp political divisions. Democrats don't trust Republicans; Republicans don't trust Democrats. It is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which political pressure could be brought to bear on undecided voters, perhaps even at their kitchen table, as they deliberate which candidate to support or which levy to reject.

If such risks no longer matter, why not go the rest of the way and conduct elections via the Internet? The downside of all that convenience? No election would be immune to fraud; no election would go unchallenged.

So sharp are the political divisions, in fact, that the Republican-dominated General Assembly last week passed no-fault absentee voting legislatively. It won't be in effect by the Nov. 8 election, and it will be dumped in favor of the statewide constitutional amendment if Issue 2 passes.

We consider unlimited absentee voting - regardless of how it is implemented - a mistake and a threat to the sanctity of one of citizenship's most important responsibilities.

Accordingly we recommend a vote No on State Issue 2.

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