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Published: Saturday, 12/10/2005

Election bill ill-conceived

SOME members of the Ohio General Assembly are so eager to punish political enemies that the legislature is about to make a serious step backward in state election procedure.

A bill greased for quick action before the Senate and House includes an identification requirement that will make it harder for some voters to cast ballots in coming elections.

The ostensible reason for the action is voter fraud, even though lawmakers cannot cite any actual cases of voters attempting to vote illegally in Ohio. That's because fraud has never been a problem.

The fast-track legislation would require voters to show a photo identification card, such as a driver's license, or some other document - perhaps a utility bill, bank statement, or paycheck - with their name and current address.

Under current law, all a voter has to do is sign the poll book. If the signature matches the one on file with the board of elections, the person may vote. Generations of Ohioans have voted on their signatures, and there is no legitimate reason to change the law now.

The obvious problem with an identification requirement is that it excludes elderly and poor voters who do not have photo IDs and may not have any of those other documents, even though they are properly registered. Even homeless people may not be denied the right to vote.

Identification requirements are little more than the modern-day equivalent of poll taxes and literacy tests, which once were employed in some states to keep poor, black citizens from voting.

In justifying the ID requirement, the only example of election fraud cited by the bill's sponsor, Sen. Kevin Coughlin, a Republican from Cuyahoga Falls, was the submission last year of faulty registrations bearing the names of cartoon characters and celebrities. Those registrations were easily weeded out by county election boards and did not result in any improper votes.

One reason for the rush job on the legislation was an attempt by Republican opponents of Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a GOP gubernatorial candidate, to thwart passage of his tax limitation amendment in 2006. The bill contains a provision that would prohibit the secretary of state from being an official of an issue or candidate campaign, other than his own.

In any event, the election bill is being pushed through too quickly and has numerous other flaws, including new limits on advertising of ballot issues and a provision that would make it easier for township, county, and municipal elected officials to put the arm on their employees for campaign contributions.

As Peg Rosenfield, the veteran election specialist for the Ohio League of Women Voters, put it, "There's so much wrong with this bill that you don't know where to start. We want them not to rush this like they did campaign finance [legislation] but to sit down and go through this section by section and try to get it right."

That's sage advice. Lawmakers should follow it.

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