New report finds Ohio voting practices much improved, but state still lagging in certain areas

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Outreach to low income voters improved but registration requirements, provisional ballot counting remain as excessive hurdles to voters

Washington, DC — A new report finds that while Ohio has improved its voting practices, increasing its outreach to low-income voters by stepping up compliance with the National Voter Registration Act, there are still hurdles to full voter participation. According to the report, “Voting in 2010: Ten Swing States,” Ohio voter registration deadlines remain burdensome and provisional ballot counting practices continue to disenfranchise too many voters.

The report examines election laws and policies in 10 key states and highlights their potential impact on voter participation in the upcoming mid-term elections. Because Ohio is the site of closely-contested U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races this year, participation rates could decide the outcome of the election. The report was produced by national policy centers and election watchdogs Common Cause and Demos. It reviews voting laws and policies in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio.

“Ohio is once again going to have incredibly close elections this year, and it has been the site of numerous voting problems in the past, including vote suppression,” said Tova Wang, Senior Democracy Fellow at Demos and author of the report. “Ohio has made great strides over the last several years in reforming the system, but it’s a state that always needs to be watched.”

“When elections are this close, it’s clear how critical the rules of the game are and whether they are enforced.” Said Susannah Goodman, Director of the Election Reform Program at Common Cause and co-author of the report. “Our report shows where election laws in Ohio help voters, where they hinder participation and where they need to be improved.”

The report examines problematic voting areas including registration, ID issues (which can present burdens to those who don’t hold traditional identification such as a driver’s license), provisional ballots, voter suppression and deception tactics, caging and challenge laws, voting by overseas and military voters, and challenges for new citizens and ethnic minorities. A summary chart evaluates each state’s practices, and a set of recommendations is offered for improvement of these voting procedures.

For Ohio, the report found a number of notable obstacles to full voter participation.

The very early voter registration deadline – 30 days prior to the election – may prevent many interested citizens from participating.

Issues regarding database matching remain unresolved, though the secretary of state has taken steps to resolve them.

Ohio has had problems with deceptive robocalls and other attempts to use misinformation to prevent individuals from voting; the law is not specific enough to combat such practices. Ohio also lacks anti-spam statutes which apply to non-commercial e-mails, although e-mail is a common and rapid method of spreading disinformation.

Provisional ballots cast at the wrong precinct are not counted.

On the positive side, the report found some exemplary voting laws and procedures which other states would do well to emulate.

In response to a lawsuit, Ohio is improving its registration practices at state public assistance agencies. The state’s Department of Job and Family Services entered into a settlement agreement in November 2009 to implement and monitor the NVRA. The first several months of data reporting under the agreement are encouraging.

Citizens who have finished their prison sentences are allowed to vote.

Ohio’s implementation of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act is exemplary. The Secretary of State’s office has been partnering with local elections officials to update them on MOVE. Additionally, it intends to work with non-profit agencies to conduct outreach to voters covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) and work with the Overseas Vote Foundation to update its UOCAVA site.

The state also has exemplary practices with regard to voter registration outreach to newly naturalized citizens. The secretary of state’s office provides voter registration information to all naturalized citizens and has conducted registration at naturalization ceremonies.

Click here for the full report, executive summary and other swing state information.