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Published: Wednesday, 2/1/2006

New law requires Ohio voters to show identification at polls

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Voters will be required to show identification before casting a ballot beginning with August's special elections under a bill passed solely on the backs of Republicans and swiftly signed yesterday by Gov. Bob Taft.

The rapid signing ensures some provisions, including several making it tougher to place issues on the ballot, will be in effect in time to affect the May 2 primary election. Democrats dubbed it the "Republican Party Preservation Act."

"The chickens will come home to roost on this," said state Rep. Dan Stewart (D., Columbus). "People will see through this. This is a burden on senior citizens, the low-income without ID. It will be seen as voter repression."

Several black members of the state legislature noted that Mr. Taft signed the bill the same day as the death of Coretta Scott King, wife of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and a crusader in her own right.

For the first time, a voter in Ohio will be required to provide a driver's license, military ID, utility bill, paycheck, bank statement, government check, or some government document that displays the voter's name and address before getting a ballot.

Currently, voters simply sign their names. The signature is then compared by a poll worker to the one given at the time the voter registered.

The new law also prohibits the filing of lawsuits in state courts to challenge the results of a federal election, eliminates the mandate for a random recount of electronic voting machines within two months of an election, and prohibits non-Ohioans from circulating petitions to change state law or the constitution.

House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) said he believes the changes will be minor in practice but will send the message that Ohio will protect the integrity of its elections system.

"The one thing that the last presidential election taught us is that there are a lot of people that want to come into Ohio, bring tactics from other states, and employ them in Ohio," he said. "We need to make certain that we're protected against that."

Twenty-two states, including Ohio neighbors Kentucky and Indiana, have some form of voter identification requirement.

"It's the death of a thousand cuts, a nibble here and a nibble there," said Peg Rosenfield, spokesman for the League of Women Voters of Ohio. "We've made everything difficult, except it isn't going to make it difficult to do stuff that has gone on for years, like people telling people the wrong place to go, the wrong date to vote, or screw-ups with registration. None of those things would be affected."

Those seeking to start a similar effort would have to garner 1,000 signatures, instead of the current 100, to place the issue before the attorney general for language review.

The common practice of using out-of-state residents to circulate petitions would be outlawed. Out-of-state residents were heavily used last year for the failed election reform effort as well as Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell's proposed caps on future government spending that have been certified for this November's ballot.

Catherine Turcer, of government watchdog Ohio Citizen Action, said the residency requirement for petition circulators might survive constitutional challenge, but she called it "silly."

"The person who is collecting the signatures really is much like the paper and the pen," she said. "They're a vehicle to get the petition to the voter so the voter can sign. You need to confirm the signatures, and we have a good matching process, and that's how you rule out fraud. It's really provincial thinking."

Rep. Kevin DeWine (R., Fairborn), the bill's sponsor, defended the move to prohibit the filing of Ohio challenges in federal elections as occurred following President Bush's re-election in 2004. Suits were filed in the Ohio Supreme Court seeking to prevent the award of Ohio's electoral votes to Mr. Bush. The suits were ultimately dismissed.

"The U.S. Constitution and federal law clearly states that Congress is the arbiter of federal elections," said Mr. DeWine. "Ohio Supreme Court precedent going back to 1939 said they clearly do not have jurisdiction to make decisions on the contesting of federal elections."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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