Elections Bill Stalls

 
Elections Bill Stalls, Is Back

Elections bill stalls, is back

Passage expected today; voter ID now separate bill
Thursday, June 23, 2011 03:05 AM
By Jim Siegel.

 Proposals to overhaul Ohio election law and require that voters show a photo ID at the polls took a few unusual turns yesterday as Republicans, including the secretary of state, tried to work out a final deal.

One day after suddenly inserting a controversial photo ID requirement into a broad elections-overhaul bill, Senate Republicans yesterday decided to pull the provision back out and instead work to pass it as a separate bill.

Then the elections-overhaul bill briefly stalled when GOP leaders placed it on the Senate calendar but did not vote on it. A source said the move was related to uncertainty over whether Secretary of State Jon Husted was going to publicly oppose the separate photo ID bill - a House-passed bill that, before this week, Senate leaders did not appear interested in moving.

Senate President Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond, said the elections bill would pass today, adding that he just wanted to take another day to bring himself and members up to speed with its numerous provisions.

Meanwhile, Democrats and black leaders blasted the photo ID requirement as an attempt to suppress poor, minority and elderly voters, many of whom tend to vote Democratic. The photo ID bill, which has passed the House, could pass the Senate today or early next week.

Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, said part of the decision to remove the photo ID section from the elections bill was to ensure that the numerous other aspects of the bill would not be held up by legal challenges.

"The question is, did we need to do it with all of the other things in this bill, or did it cause unnecessary complications at the last minute," he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has threatened to sue, and Rep. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, head of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, said, "If they do not vote these provisions down, we will spend every dime we have" to challenge them in court.

Husted said yesterday morning that he is pleased with how the elections bill stands now. He worked with legislative leaders on a number of provisions, including those designed to give Ohio a more uniform election system and shorten the state's early voting period.

But Husted has not favored a photo ID requirement without giving voters other alternatives.

Faber said people need a photo ID when they go to the airport or cash a check. But he added, "I also think, if you're going to do photo ID, that you need alternatives, and I think we needed to make sure we flesh out what those are and how they work."

Niehaus said the Senate is looking at letting people without a photo ID provide a full Social Security number. That would allow voters to cast a provisional ballot, which is counted after elections officials verify the person's information.

But House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, said that with identify-theft issues, "We have a very serious problem with using Social Security numbers."

If the Senate passes the election-overhaul bill today, it will go back to the House. Asked if he would tell his members to vote for the elections bill regardless of whether a photo ID provision passed, Batchelder said: "Not yet."

Critics said the cost of obtaining a state ID, which also requires a birth certificate, could keep some voters away from the polls. Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, said he hopes the photo ID bill will give free identification cards to anyone that wants one, but Niehaus said he has "reservations" about that idea, adding that most people already have a photo identification.

Stressing that he was not speaking for the university, Daniel Tokaji, an election-law expert at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, said there is little evidence that voter impersonation is a problem in Ohio, thus there is no need to require voter IDs.

"You don't have to be a law professor to figure out what's going on here," Tokaji said. "This is a power grab. It is a transparent effort by Republicans to make it more difficult to vote."

Batchelder and Niehaus disagreed, arguing it's about maintaining integrity of the voting process. They say Georgia and Indiana did not see a drop-off in minority voting when voter ID laws passed.

Judge Nathaniel Jones, who retired from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2002 and served as general counsel for the NAACP, told lawmakers they should be working to maximize voter participation.

"Any strategy or program that decreases the tendency of people to step forward and participate is anti-democratic," he told a Senate committee. "There are all types of safeguards that can be constructed to ensure there is not an abuse of the process," and they can be done without suppressing votes.

Dispatch Senior Editor Joe Hallett contributed to this story.

jsiegel@dispatch.com