Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Thursday, October 26

Confusion Reigns Over Voter ID Requirement

The lawsuit filed Tuesday challenging the new voter ID requirement as vague, confusing, and inconsistently applied has been transferred to U.S. District Judge Algernon Marbley and set for a hearing today on plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order. The preliminary injunction motion will be heard next Wednesday, November 1st. The attorneys working on the lawsuit need more people who have experienced difficulties with the voter ID requirement in connection with absentee voting to come forward and tell their stories. Readers can send their information to me at yellowdogsammy-at-hotmail-dot-com.

This lawsuit responds to the worsening disarray among Ohio's 88 boards of election on how to apply the vague requirements of the law to absentee voting. The motion for a TRO is supported by a stack of sworn declarations that are truly alarming. To summarize the ongoing chaos:
  • Boards of Elections are applying different interpretations of what "current" means as applied to utility bills, bank statements, government checks or paychecks, or other government documents. Does that mean that the date must be recent (and if so, how recent), or only that the address must be current regardless of the date? A Cuyahoga County official said this month's bill is okay, last month's maybe, but older than that no good; others merely parrot the ambiguous language of the statute or have no policy.
  • What's included in "other government document"? The statute doesn't define it, so who knows if municipal or county governments count, or federal, or just state. Nor is the meaning of "document" spelled out. Cuyahoga County will accept documents from any government, Mahoning County and Knox County say only state or federal. Franklin County representatives were inconsistent, one having "no idea" but ruling out the Board of Elections itself, the other throwing the definition wide open.
  • There are two numbers on the Ohio drivers license (a large one on the photograph, and a smaller one amid the text on the left), and voters requesting or submitting an absentee ballot are choosing inconsistently. Does either count, or if not which one? Representatives for Cuyahoga County gave inconsistent answers, and Mahoning County said the "photograph number" won't be accepted.
  • The statute specifies that military IDs are only acceptable if they have a current address, but members of the military report that Army, Navy and Air Force IDs don't show an address. Mahoning and Trumbull Counties won't accept the military IDs without an address, Cuyahoga County says they will.
  • The statute permits voters to satisfy the ID requirement with "current and valid photo identification" but doesn't specifically state that the address on the ID must be current. A different statute defines such identification as "current" as long as it hasn't expired, whether the address is current or not. Trumbull County won't accept an unexpired ID if the address is no longer good, but neighboring Mahoning County will. In Cuyahoga County a witness got one answer from the director and a different one from a clerk at the absentee voting counter.
  • Voters are supposed to be able to give their social security or driver's license numbers without producing the actual identification card, but Lucas and Cuyahoga Counties are requiring early in-person voters to show ID.
Whole classes of voters are going to run afoul of these vague rules and conflicting applications. Sara Feldenkris, the Director of Government Relations for the Undergraduate Student Government at The Ohio State University, has submitted an declaration in which she states that her organization has been encouraging students to vote and has registered almost 1,700. However, students are likely to have driver's licenses with a different address from where they presently live, so some of them are going to think they can't vote because it's easy to interpret "current identification" as meaning the address must be current. Also, students in dorms and Greek housing don't have utility bills and many don't get paychecks or have local bank accounts, so these backup forms of identification aren't available. Feldenkris contacted Boards of Elections and the Secretary of State's office to see whether a letter sent by the university (as a public school it could be deemed a unit of state government) to each student containing that student's name and address would suffice. "I was dismayed to learn that everyone I talked to had a different interpretation of the law, and gave me a different answer," she wrote. Butler, Hamilton, and Belmont Counties gave varying answers to the underlying non-current address issue. Different people at the Franklin County board gave conflicting answers about the proposed University letter. An official at the Secretary of State's office obstinately refused to take steps to clear up the confusion:
The assistant to the Director for Elections at the Ohio Secretary of State's office told me that voters must also show other proof of residency if their driver's licenses show a former address, and that this alternative proof could be a letter from The Ohio State University. Unfortunately, the Ohio Secretary of State's office would not put this answer in writing. Nor would they agree to send out a directive or memorandum providing these instructions to Ohio's eighty-eight county Boards of Elections.
This mess of conflicting interpretations is threatening to deter people from voting, to arbitrarily allow some to vote and others in the same circumstances not to vote, and to generate more of the confusion and delay that has impugned the fairness and integrity of elections. The Secretary of State is not taking steps to alleviate the problem. It is vital to obtain court intervention.


At 12:42 PM, Blogger Jill said...

Remember my concern about Jennifer Martinez Atzberger and the whole women who marry issue re: their names on different documents? This mess was completely foreseeable.


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