Rather than deal with a heavy use of provisional ballots in a comprehensive, bipartisan fashion, the Ohio Senate has addressed the state’s No. 1 elections problem in ways likely to continue confusion and confrontation. Voters deserve a more thorough overhaul, one aimed at easing access to the ballot and counting as many votes as possible.
Last week’s passage of Senate Bill 216 came on a party-line vote, an unfortunate sign of future legal trouble. Cast on Election Day when there are doubts about a voter’s eligibility, provisional ballots are held, then counted after information can be verified. For years, there have been worries that lawsuits over provisional ballots in Ohio could decide a close presidential election.
The Republican-backed bill does put into statute an important federal court ruling requiring that voters who, through no fault of their own, cast ballots in the right polling locations but wrong precincts would have their votes counted. Unfortunately, those who wind up in the wrong polling locations would be disenfranchised.
Another advance in the bill would require boards of elections to use information on a provisional ballot form for voter registration or to update registration, a convenience that would ease future problems. But those casting provisional ballots would have the responsibility to fill out five lines instead of three, adding their current address and date of birth. Even a minor error would result in a ballot being invalidated.
Sound objections also were raised by Democrats, voter advocates and elections officials against shortening from 10 days to seven days the time provisional voters have to bring in proper ID. Accuracy, not speed, should be paramount. Meanwhile, the Senate bill did not address the most effective way to cut down on provisional ballots — electronic voter registration.