COLUMBUS - Individuals paid to register voters, and not those paying the bills, would still be required to personally submit registration forms for processing under revised rules submitted Wednesday by Secretary of State Ken Blackwell's office.
The new rules were submitted despite arguments they would lead to vote suppression by discouraging legitimate registration drives by organizations or volunteers afraid of inadvertently committing a crime.
"If Mr. Blackwell has his way, good citizens working to bring others to the polls could be charged with a felony and amass thousands of dollars of fines or receive jail time if they are unable to personally return voter registration forms ," said Shaun Tucker, Ohio coordinator for the Washington-based People for the American Way.
A hearing on the rules was held last week, resulting in revisions filed Wednesday in anticipation of a June 26 hearing before the legislative Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review.
House Bill 3, enacted earlier this year, requires "persons" who receive compensation for registering voters to personally submit a registration form within 10 days of completion to either the secretary of state or the appropriate county elections board.
"If you look at the law and the Legislative Services Commission analysis, that issue is pretty clear, and it has been further substantiated by members of the General Assembly through the media," said Blackwell spokesman James Lee. "We have to enforce the law as it is written."
Although there are varying definitions of the word "person" in Ohio law, the registration rules definite "person" as a human being and not an entity or organization.
The new rules make it clear that paid registrars can use the U.S. Mail to meet the personal filing requirement. They do not, however, attempt to define the word "compensation" given complaints that the definition in the earlier version was too vague and could draw in volunteers reimbursed for such things as transportation or parking.
"We were certainly never under the impression that a can of soda or a T-shirt meant compensation, but where that begins is not defined in the statute," said Mr. Lee.
That determination would be determined by "others," such as the courts, he said.
Among other things, the rules require paid registrars to register with the state and complete an Internet training course.
Democrats, including the campaign of his opponent Ted Strickland, have called on Mr. Blackwell to give up his election oversight duties while running for governor.
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