State lawmakers have yet another opportunity this year to enable Ohioans — finally — to register to vote online. If the Republican-controlled state House does not want to join the Senate in passing a bill that would improve the state’s election system and encourage more people to vote, especially in a presidential election year, its leaders need to explain why.
Since he became Ohio’s chief elections officer five years ago, Secretary of State Jon Husted — a likely GOP candidate for governor in 2018 — has promoted online registration. Mr. Husted observes that an electronic system would be more accurate than paper registration records kept by county boards of elections, which are subject to clerical mistakes. It would lessen the need for time-consuming and controversial provisional ballots, which are cast when questions arise about voters’ registration data.
Online registration is in effect in 29 states and the District of Columbia; two other states are creating such systems. In these states, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports, “no fraud or security breaches are known to date ... security for online voter registration is an essential element of system design.”
Ohio lawmakers routinely seek to suppress voting among disfavored citizens by citing vote fraud that they can’t identify. Secretary Husted notes that more than 296,000 Ohio voters have changed their addresses online, without a hint of irregularity. He calls online registration “the next logical step, and one that is overdue.”
Under a measure that the GOP-majority Senate approved last year on a 31-1 vote, Ohioans could register online by supplying personal information: name, date of birth, driver’s license number, and partial Social Security number. These data would be checked instantly against State Bureau of Motor Vehicle records. A discrepancy would block registration, preventing any attempt at fraud.
Mr. Husted asserts that online registration not only would be more secure and convenient than paper registration, but also would save the state $1 million or more each year. Voters, such as those who don’t have a driver’s license, still would have the option of registering in person.
House Democrats claim that Mr. Husted does not need legislative approval to launch online registration; the secretary says he does, to authorize Bureau of Motor Vehicles cooperation. This debate would become moot if the House would simply pass the registration bill, quickly.
In many respects, such as its early-voting and absentee-voting procedures, Ohio is ahead of other states in making it easier and more convenient for citizens to vote. Such leadership is appropriate, given the state’s key role in national elections. But its continued refusal to permit online registration continues to set the state back.
House members have no good excuse for failing to allow Ohio voters to register online to take part in this year’s election — unless, of course, they prefer to impede such participation.
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