Compromise relaxes voter ID rules


COLUMBUS - New identification requirements will be in force on Election Day, but a court settlement reached last night is designed to relax those standards enough to assure that no legitimate voter will be turned away.

Both sides hope the settlement approved by U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley will alleviate confusion created by conflicting court decisions and inconsistent application of the new rules by county boards of elections.

The order, however, is only good through Tuesday's election and is unlikely to satisfy critics who see voter ID requirements in general as an attempt to suppress the votes of some groups.

"I do not have all the documents required for this election," said Gloria Kilgore, who lives in Columbus but has no permanent address.

"I've always voted since 1995 in Ohio," she said. "I take pride in voting. It was always simple before House Bill 3. You go to the polls. They find your name, you sign off, and you go on and vote. We've all got a signature, for sure."

House Bill 3 enacted earlier this year requires all voters casting ballots in person to show either a driver's license, a valid photo ID, military ID, utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or some other government document displaying the voter's name and current address.

Absent any of those, a voter could provide the last four digits of his Social Security number or sign an affidavit attesting to his eligibility to vote. In those cases, voters would cast provisional ballots that would only be counted once their eligibility checks out.

Under prior law, poll workers simply compared a voter's signature at the polls with his signature when he registered.

A lawsuit pursued by groups representing labor and the poor argued the requirements could adversely affect senior citizens who no longer drive, college students living in dorms, the poor who frequently change addresses, or the homeless who can't produce a current utility bill.

The suit resulted in a temporary injunction last week suspending the ID requirements, but the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that order on Sunday. Attorneys from both sides negotiated all day yesterday until reaching agreement about 9 p.m.

"We've created a spirit in this agreement that legitimate provisional votes will be counted," said the lawsuit plaintiffs' attorney, Subodh Chandra.

Among the provisions:

•All absentee ballots will be counted regardless of whether voters used the wrong number from their driver's license, the assumption being that county boards of election wouldn't have sent them the ballot in the first place if accurate information hadn't been provided on the initial application.

•Documents issued by public universities and colleges would count as one of the "other" government documents, a nod to the fact that some college students live in dormitories and may not have bills or identification with a current address.

•Since most military IDs do not display addresses but do have Social Security numbers, anyone using a military ID would be treated as though he is providing a Social Security number. He would be handed a provisional ballot with the promise that the ballot would definitely be counted without the usual follow-up eligibility check.

•Anyone who does not have any form of the above ID, such as a homeless person, will be allowed to provide a Social Security number and cast a provisional ballot with assurances it would be counted.

"This is a victory for defending a law designed to accomplish a good thing, prevent voter fraud," said Mark Anthony, the spokesman for Attorney General Jim Petro.

"But we've done it in a proper and constitutional way."

Contact Jim Provance at:

or 614-221-0496.