ELECTIONS Senate absentee voting proposal delayed by concerns of race, class

Some legislators are concerned about requiring photo IDs at the polls.
COLUMBUS -- Majority Senate Republicans are delaying the unveiling of their proposal to overhaul elections in Ohio amid concerns over how the measure could impact indigent and minority voters.
"I would have preferred to have a [substitute] bill today," state Sen. Kevin Coughlin, the lead Senate sponsor of the measure, said Wednesday. "There are people who have concerns about the bill."
However, Coughlin, a Cuyahoga Falls Republican, said the concerns probably would not derail the measure that legislative leaders say they would like to try and pass before the Legislature recesses for the summer later this month.
Majority Republicans are talking of stripping from the House-passed measure a provision to allow voters to vote absentee for any reason and are talking about inserting a provision to make voters show some sort of identification -- possibly a photo ID -- at the polls before voting.
Proposal defense
Coughlin said absentee voting should be the exception rather than the rule.
"If somebody uses a no-fault absentee ballot to cast their vote three weeks before the election based on what an opinion poll says, well that opinion poll isn't guaranteed to stay up," Coughlin said.
"What if that person changes their mind before Election Day? They're disenfranchised," added Coughlin.
Coughlin said backers of the ID provision want to prevent voter fraud.
"You want to make sure the person who is supposed to be voting is actually the person who shows up to vote," Coughlin said.
Coughlin explained that Senate Republicans are thinking of providing alternatives to a photo ID such as a written affirmation, apparently to blunt criticism from Democrats and advocates for the poor that the provision could suppress voting among the homeless and other low-income groups.
Racial undercurrents
However, critics of the measure say its provisions regarding an identification could go beyond vote suppression.
"It speaks of racism," said state Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd, who sits on the Senate Rules Committee which is considering the proposed election reform measure.
Hagan, who is also the fourth-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said the provision would negatively impact blacks and other minority voters that he said studies have shown may be more likely to not have a driver's license.
"The bill is built on the premise of intimidating voters," Hagan said.
Senate President Bill M. Harris, an Ashland Republican, said work will continue on the measure, and he's hopeful the full Senate may be able to consider the proposal before lawmakers adjourn for the summer.
Majority House Republicans haven't taken a position on the potential changes the Senate could make to the measure, said state Rep. Kevin DeWine, a Fairborn Republican and the lead sponsor of the measure in the Ohio House.
The measure the House passed last month would also require the secretary of state to establish a statewide computerized voter registration database to be funded by federal money and would establish a process by which provisional ballots can be cast.
The House-passed proposal also would strike all instances in state law that would require poll workers to refuse to provide a voter a ballot, according to a legislative analysis of the bill. Instead, those voters would be permitted to vote provisionally, provided they submit a written affirmation to a state or local election official for verification, according to the analysis.
If the election official determines the voter is eligible, the provisional ballot must be counted in the election, according to the bill analysis.

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