As Election Day approached one year ago, Ohio’s heavy use of provisional ballots triggered worries about a delayed final tally and lawsuits over how such ballots, potentially decisive in a close election, would be counted.
An elections bill introduced in the Ohio Senate last week revisits those contentious issues. The measure, by Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, follows an unfortunate pattern in the Republican-dominated legislature. Instead of working on a broad reform bill in a bipartisan fashion, Republicans continue to follow a piecemeal approach.
The latest bill would put into statute federal court rulings on provisional ballots. The good news is that voters who, through no fault of their own, show up at the right polling location but wrong precinct would see their votes counted. Unfortunately, Seitz’s bill would disenfranchise those who wind up in the wrong polling location. Voters who arrive at the wrong location due to poll worker error deserve to have their votes counted, too.
Also worrisome is a proposed shortening of the 10-day period for provisional voters to come to their elections board with the proper identification. After being notified at the polls, such voters would have until the Friday after Election Day. Although the problem affected fewer than 400 voters last year, the precedent could be damaging. The Ohio Association of Elections Officials rightly has raised concerns lest the 10-day period to count provisional ballots be shortened, too. Its sound advice is that accuracy, not speed, is paramount.
The bill would allow those who are not registered (the major cause behind provisional ballots being rejected) to use data on the ballot envelope for voter registration, avoiding future difficulties. That’s a plus, but the bill would add two more lines to fill out, for date of birth and address.
In such situations, simplicity is the best policy, avoiding problems when voters make even minor errors. The current format, mandated by Jon Husted, the Ohio secretary of state, gets it right: Printed name, signature and a form of identification, such as the last four digits of a Social Security number. The best way to cut down on provisional ballots (recommended by Husted) is one on which the legislature is dawdling: online voter registration, which greatly improves accuracy.