Ohio voters associate dirty politics with negative television ads that fill the airwaves during close elections in this battleground state. Less obvious but just as dirty are efforts to suppress the vote by making it more difficult to register and gain access to the ballot.
Across the country, Republicans have used legislative clout gained in the 2010 elections to erect such barriers. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law estimates that more than 5 million eligible voters could find it significantly harder to cast a ballot this year, a number that would have made a difference in both the 2000 and 2004 elections.
Most burdensome are strict new laws requiring voters to present a government-issued photo ID to vote. The Ohio House passed such a bill last year, the measure moving to the state Senate.
Many voters in Ohio use a driver’s license to establish their identity at the polls. What few realize is that other forms of identification can be used, such as a utility bill, bank statement or paycheck. Under that system, instances of voter fraud have been extremely rare.
A new study by Policy Matters Ohio, a Cleveland-based research organization, makes clear the devastating impact a strict photo ID requirement would have in the state, both on turnout and in terms of the costs of implementation. The organization’s close look at costs raises serious questions about the spending necessary to attack a practically nonexistent problem.
To meet legal standards, Ohio would have to provide free IDs to those who lack a driver’s license or state ID card and provide free birth certificates to those who need them in order to get an ID, the study found. Policy Matters estimated that it would cost the state about $7 million a year to implement fully a photo ID bill.
The effect on voter turnout would be felt disproportionately in the electorate. About 1 million Ohio voters, or more than one in 10, lack a photo ID, but they are concentrated among the poor, elderly, young adult and minority populations. Policy Matters found that one in four African-American voters in Ohio lacks a photo ID, or about 260,000 voters. The demographic groups affected are those most likely to favor Democratic candidates.
Ohio Republicans have made much of their efforts to bring state spending under control, balancing the budget while cutting taxes, driving toward increased efficiency. From that standpoint, a photo ID bill would be a huge waste of money, a $7 million solution in search of a problem. Or, as Policy Matters put it, “Ohio photo voter ID: A picture worth $7 million a year?”