GOP lawmakers should heed Ohio Secretary of State Husted

Last month, in the midst of heated debate over the election reform package being rammed through the Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly, Secretary of State Jon Husted weighed in on the controversial voter photo-ID provision with this comment to the Columbus Dispatch: “I stand for what I believe in. You go out, and you campaign and talk about being fair. If you want to have any credibility, you’ve got to do what you said you would do. I said I’d be fair and even-handed.” Being fair and even-handed, in Husted’s opinion, is a photo-ID bill that includes alternative forms of identification.

Indeed, a spokesman for the secretary of state contends that the election reform bill passed late last month “gives our office everything we need.” In other words, a photo-ID bill, which we have strongly opposed because we believe it is designed to suppress the votes of Ohioans who do not traditionally support the GOP, is not necessary.

In an editorial on June 25, we criticized Secretary of State Husted for his lukewarm response to the strategy Republican legislators were pursuing to undermine the sanctity of the electoral process. But, with his broadside against members of his own party, we have no qualms about praising him for his principled stand.

Republican legislators would do well to let Ohio’s chief elections officer have the final word on this issue.

The Senate is expected to take up the photo-ID bill, which originated in the House, when it returns to session on Wednesday. The legislation has been amended to include a provision that would allow voters to cast a provisional ballot if they do not have photo identification but provide Social Security numbers, according to the Dispatch. Provisional ballots are not counted immediately.

But the requirement for SS numbers worries even some Republicans.

Senate leaders should reject the photo-ID measure, given the concerns voiced by the secretary of state, and the fact that if the legislation is passed and signed into law, there will be a federal lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. Ohio, which received a major black eye during the 2004 presidential election because of allegations by Democrats that turnout in heavily Democratic area was suppressed by the policies put in place by then Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican, can ill afford to be in the spotlight with the 2012 presidential election just around the corner.

Voter fraud?

The argument being used by Republican advocates of requiring voters to present official photo identification is that it would prevent voter fraud. However, as Democrats in the General Assembly and other organizations opposed to the provision, such as the AARP, League of Women Voters of Ohio, American Civil Liberties Union and Project Vote, have noted, the GOP has presented no evidence of widespread voter fraud in statewide elections in Ohio. The fact that 887,000 Ohioans may lack the government ID — Ohio driver’s license or an Ohio state ID or military ID or U.S. passport — to present at the polling places makes the true intention of the Republicans clear.

The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio has said that even though the bill would appropriate money to pay for a photo ID for some who can’t afford one, there is still the problem of other costs, such as a certified birth certificate that would set someone on fixed income back $21.50. In addition, it would cost the state millions of dollars to provide the identification, this at a time of tight budgets.

It is clear that Republicans in the General Assembly have let partisan politics dictate their actions. As Secretary of State Husted put it, fairness and even-handedness should be their guide.

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