The General Assembly is considering several bills that, in the name of combating voter fraud, would promote vote suppression. Ohioans shouldn't be fooled.
The legislation, promoted by the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate, would require Ohioans to show government-issued photo identification at the polls before they could exercise their right to vote. It also would prohibit counties from mailing unsolicited absentee-ballot applications to voters. Both provisions are solutions in search of problems, designed to limit the vote instead of keeping it honest.
The House approved its version of voter-ID legislation with scant public comment. The Senate was on track to do so yesterday, but separated that issue from other election changes. Sponsors argue that the identification mandate will prevent voters from trying to cast multiple ballots in the same election, but there is no evidence that has been a problem in Ohio.
An estimated 11 percent of voters nationwide lack official photo ID. Carrying out the requirement in Ohio would force the state to spend a lot of money to set up a system of free photo identification documents, and could encourage lawsuits, at a time when Republican lawmakers are preaching about the need to reduce the cost of government.
The mandate would affect, and could disenfranchise, thousands of registered voters who lack driver's licenses or other forms of official ID such as a passport or military document. These largely include minorities, poor people, and students.
That such people are more likely to vote Democratic than Republican is not a coincidence. Democrats' comparisons of photo-ID rules to the vote-suppressing poll taxes and literacy tests of an earlier era are not overstated.
Forcing voters without official ID to cast provisional ballots would aggravate the problems that many counties, notably Lucas County, have had handling these ballots. Many voters may decide that getting identification to vote isn't worth the time or inconvenience. That's what the mandate's advocates count on.
Similarly, it is not the state's business to dictate to counties that they cannot pay for and mail applications for absentee ballots before an election, any more than it would be appropriate to force them to do so. As usual, state lawmakers are all for home rule and local control of government, except when they aren't.
The real impetus to the efforts to tighten Ohio's voting rules is more likely found in the fact that other Republican-controlled state governments also are pursuing such measures in advance of next year's presidential election.
As usual, Ohio will be a fiercely contested "battleground" state; the outcome here could decide who wins the White House. That status benefits Ohio, because it forces both parties' nominees to pay close attention to the state's concerns, during and after the campaign.
Legislative efforts to stack the deck in favor of one party will erode that advantage. They shouldn't be tolerated.
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