Elections report: Ohio must update voter lists

Elections report: Ohio must update voter lists

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH, Wednesday, April 8, 2009 Ohio appears to be violating a federal law by not automatically updating voter registrations when residents change the address on their driver’s licenses, according to the final report from two elections summits.

By Mark Niquette

That makes it more difficult for counties and the state to maintain up-to-date voter-registration lists, contributing to the relatively high number of provisional ballots cast in Ohio and other problems, the report said.

After hearing concerns about registration databases and provisional voting, officials, advocates and other interested parties identified them as reform priorities, according to the report released today.

Other priorities are Ohio’s early voting time frame and procedures; voter-identification laws; poll-worker recruitment and training; and post-election audits.

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, who convened the post-election summits on Ohio voting in December and last month, will issue her own report soon to Gov. Ted Strickland and the legislature, said spokesman Jeff Ortega.

Today’s 94-page report is from Lawrence Norden, who led the Ohio summits and is senior counsel at the Brennan Center in New York. Norden said the report is meant to be a tool for making needed changes.

“This report is not in any way meant to be the end of the story; it’s meant to assist everybody,” he said, noting that it has the backing of the bipartisan Ohio Association of Election Officials and myriad other groups as a framework for reform.

“I hope that both the Republicans and the Democrats in the legislature will use it crafting whatever legislation they’re going to craft over the next few months.”

In the meantime, the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles said it plans to work with Brunner’s office to correct the issue of how updates to addresses on driver’s licenses are handled.

Norden pointed out that the National Voting Rights Act of 1965 says that any change of address on a driver’s license shall serve as a notice to automatically update a voter’s registration, unless he or she says the change is not for voting purposes.

But in Ohio, the BMV only offers the opportunity to change the registration by completing a separate form, if the clerk follows the policy.

This policy “makes it far less likely that voters who have changed their permanent addresses will also change their registration forms,” the report said.

Norden said that contributes to Ohio having one of the nation’s highest rates of provisional ballots, which are cast by voters who move and don’t update their addresses or whose names don’t appear in the poll books for some reason.

There also are concerns about duplicates and errors in the statewide voter-registration database, as well as controversy about what should be done when information from new registrations does not match data in state motor-vehicle or Social Security databases after an automatic computer check.

It’s important that Ohio address the problems identified in the report before next year’s statewide elections, Norden said.

“Ohio had a well-run election in 2008, but it wasn’t close,” he said, referring to the outcome of the presidential race. “If you have a close election, these problems become much more apparent.”

mniquette@dispatch.com (Click here to go to source)