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Published: Friday, 6/24/2011

Ohio Senate delays action on voter photo ID plan


COLUMBUS -- State senators again postponed action Thursday on stiffer photo ID requirements for Ohio voters, even as critics prepared a game plan for a potential ballot fight against the measure.

The Republican-led state Senate voted 23-10 to pass a separate bill that would shift Ohio's 2012 presidential primary from March to May and shrink the state's early-voting window, among other election law changes.

Secretary of State Jon Husted, who helped craft the bill, said the measure provides his office tools "to ensure consistency, accuracy, and security in Ohio's elections process."

Voters would have 21 days to vote by mail and could cast a ballot in person 17 days before Election Day instead of the current 35. The legislation also would get rid of a five-day early-voting period in which new voters can both register and cast a ballot, which senators said thwarted checks and balances to assure voters are who they say they are.

Yet those sweeping changes were upstaged by debate on the photo ID bill, which would require voters to show a driver's license, passport, military ID, or state-issued photo ID at the polls. Jockeying over the ID provisions delayed action on the broader election bill Wednesday.

A host of opponents -- including nonprofit government watchdogs, the NAACP, AARP, League of Women Voters, elections officials, and legal experts -- continued to question the motives behind requiring voters to show a picture ID.

"It would be a terrible mistake, one that would surely haunt our state for years to come, if this bill were enacted into law," said Ohio State University election law professor Dan Tokaji.

"Simply put, HB 159 would make it more difficult for eligible citizens to vote and have their votes counted, while doing nothing to address electoral integrity."

Mr. Tokaji said his extensive research has found virtually no voter impersonation fraud in Ohio of the type the bill is intended to prevent.

Proponents of stricter ID requirements applauded the changes Thursday as necessary for assuring voters the voting system isn't rigged against them.

First-term state Sen. Frank LaRose of Akron was the only Republican on the committee to vote against the voter ID bill.

Mr. LaRose said he supports the intent but believes existing state law is adequate.

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