In an obvious attempt to suppress the votes of Ohioans who do not traditionally support them, Republicans in the Ohio House have rammed through a bill that requires voters to present government-issued photo identification before they would be permitted to cast ballots.
It is revealing that this requirement did not come from Ohio’s chief elections officer, Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, and that it is opposed by the AARP, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the American Civil Liberties Union and Project Vote.
The minority Democrats accused the majority of advocating a modern-day poll tax, which was used to disenfranchise large segments of the population. They have a point.
Fortunately, the legislation will be taken up by the Senate, and even though Republicans are in the majority in that chamber as well, we are confident they will not rush to judgment the way their colleagues in the House did.
Our confidence stems from the Senate’s handling of the so-called JobsOhio measure which was rushed through the House, but received full-fledged committee hearings and debate in the Senate. It passed on a 31-2 vote, with most Democrats joining the Republicans. In the House, the measure, which created a non-profit, private entity to handle Ohio’s economic development programs, went through on a largely partisan vote.
The photo-ID bill would require a voter to present an Ohio driver’s license or an Ohio state ID or military ID or US passport at the polling place in order to get a ballot. Currently, state law allows for other forms of identification, such as a voter registration card, utility bill or bank statement.
Democrats, who blasted the GOP majority for having only two committee hearings, limited testimony and providing no real evidence of voter fraud to justify this extreme measure, contend that 887,000 Ohioans may lack the government issued ID that is required under the bill.
“Voting is a constitutional right which we have a responsibility to uphold, not make more difficult,” House Minority Leader Armond Budish, D-Beachwood, said. “This bill will negatively impact the elderly, college students, the poor and minorities. After years of reform and encouraging citizens to more actively participate in their democracy, this legislation will stop and reverse that progress. Are we returning to the embarrassing days when white male property owners were the only legal voters?”
We urge the Senate to consider carefully the ramifications of the photo-ID measure and to seek an answer to this question: If such an extreme step is justified, why wasn’t it a part of Secretary of State Husted’s election reform initiative called “Ready 2012 and Beyond”? In announcing the plan, Husted said the goal is to modernize and improve overall operation of Ohio’s elections and build voter confidence in the results.
Republicans certainly can’t claim that House Bill 159 will build voter confidence when the effect would be to make it difficult for many legal Ohio voters to cast ballots.