COLUMBUS — A bill requiring closer examination of Ohio’s voter-registration database and possibly reducing the mandatory minimum of voting machines available on Election Day is headed to Gov. John Kasich.
The House voted 60-33 with just two Democrats joining Republicans in support Wednesday.
Senate Bill 200, sponsored by Sen. Joe Uecker (R., Loveland), requires additional cross-checking of information in Ohio’s voter registration database with other databases to flag problems.
It increases the checks the secretary of state must make with a national address service, requires greater cooperation with other states, and calls for certain state agencies to share driver’s license, death certificate, criminal, address, and other information that might affect someone’s registration. Secretary of State Jon Husted is already doing many of these.
In most cases, the bill would prohibit the cancellation of a registration based solely on inconsistencies found in that information. County election boards instead would contact the voter to give the person a chance to address the discrepancy. An exception to that rule would be the receipt of a death notice or certificate. That would lead to a cancellation, but it would still require a notification to be sent to the deceased’s last address.
“I think eliminating bad records in our database is important for maintaining voter integrity in the state of Ohio,” said Rep. Andrew Brenner (R., Powell).
This bill is perhaps the least controversial of a number of bills pending in the General Assembly that will affect voting. It had the support of the League of Women Voters of Ohio and the Ohio Association of County Elections Officials.
Democrats said the bill had the best shot of winning bipartisan support but after their amendments were rejected, most of them opposed it.
“Ohio already leads the country in the number of registrations that we purge or cancel each year,” said Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D., Kent). “We canceled nearly 1 million voter registrations in the last two-year period, more than any other state.”
The bill also changes the formula that determines the minimum number of machines counties must have on hand on Election Day if they use electronic voting.
The bill retains current law requiring one machine for every 175 registered voters. But it would require counties to subtract from the registered-voter count the number of absentee ballots cast in the last presidential election. That would have the effect of reducing the number of required machines.
Supporters of the provision have argued that it will save money for counties as their machines age and voters rely more often on absentee and early voting.
“If this bill does not pass, [Knox County] will have to purchase 42 additional voting machines,” said Rep. Margaret Ruhl (R., Mount Vernon). “We didn’t even use all our machines this year, so it’s going to be a huge cost for my county.”
But critics have argued that the state may regret changing the formula, particularly if it moves forward with other proposed legislation reducing the number of days available for absentee voting by mail or in person.
“I believe we’re going to have long lines, which was the reason we had the [formula] language in the first place and a bipartisan commission in the Senate to address the long lines in 2004,” said Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo).