THE chilling reality of Ohio's new law requiring voters to produce identification before casting a ballot is that it may well bar legitimate voters from exercising their fundamental privilege as free citizens.
Days before a critical election, there is widespread confusion - and legal limbo - over whether the voter ID law is being uniformly applied by the state's 88 county boards of elections.
The uncertainty threatens to muck up an election system in Ohio that has performed for years without serious instances of voter fraud or registration irregularities. But the General Assembly forced through what amounts to a none-too-subtle attempt to suppress the vote among the poor and other groups who might not be inclined to support GOP candidates.
What's worse, according to a group of labor and anti-poverty organizations, the law is being applied inconsistently across the state. What is accepted as ID by poll workers in some counties may not be in others. A federal judge in Columbus agreed and suspended the law, but the federal appeals court for Ohio reversed that, leaving the law intact, at least for now.
The possibility of voters being turned away from polls for not exhibiting certain credentials is real when in fact they may have every right to cast a ballot. In the past, a voter's signature was deemed to be reliable enough identification, and we see no reason to change a procedure that has served the state well.
The new law allows voters to present a driver's license or other photo ID card, or a utility bill to confirm the address when they arrive at the polls.
Alternatively, a voter can get a provisional ballot by presenting the last four digits of his or her Social Security number. But for that ballot to be counted, the voter must make a special trip after the election to the board of elections office to submit a valid ID.
The ID law is a recipe for disenfranchisement of some voters and for protracted litigation that could leave in doubt the outcome of a close election.
Unless the ID standards are consistently applied to avoid discouraging people from voting, the requirement should be struck down.
Otherwise the law becomes a modern form of the old and discredited poll tax.