Ohio Secretary of State addresses the youth vote

Jenna Staul

In an e-mail interview Monday with the Stater, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner answered questions about the youth vote and the Ohio elections process.

Why, in your opinion, do you think more college-aged voters participated in Ohio’s March 4 primary? What effect do you think it will have on the general election in November?

Anecdotally, there seems to be a growing trend nationally during the primaries of increasing numbers of young voters getting involved in elections. That is a good thing.

Intensive coverage of the primaries and the political process in the news media – both traditional news sources and those that cater to younger voters – might be contributing to that.

Additionally, some of the candidates appear to have much more targeted outreach to younger voters.

Young people might realize that the next president of the United States may have a direct bearing on issues that relate to younger voters, issues such as the war in Iraq and the national economy.

What does your office do to promote youth voting? Are there any specific programs in place to encourage young Ohio residents to register and vote?

Within my office is the Voting Rights Institute, which works with communities, partners with organizations and develops programming to improve the elections process and access to voting.

One component of the institute is to work to increase the ranks of young voters.

One program that has been initiated is Grads Vote, a program to place voter registration forms and other information in the hands of graduating high school seniors in Ohio.

Working with the Ohio Department of Education and Gov. Ted Strickland’s office, the program began as a pilot in several counties last year and is being expanded statewide for this year.

College-aged voters are notoriously reluctant to vote in most elections. Why do you think this is?

If that is the case, it might be because of a number of issues.

College-aged voters may be attending school away from home and might not be familiar with absentee voting or other election procedures.

Public education and outreach will be important to ensuring that all voters – including those of college age – are aware of their options with regards to casting their ballots.

As an aside, my office, via directive, has broadened the definition of identification for purposes of voting to include such items as utility bills so that voters – including those of college age – are able to fulfill voter identification and residency requirements.

Ohio played an important role in the primary season. What role do you think it will have in the upcoming general election?

Ohio has always played a pivotal role in the presidential election. By all indications, Ohio appears poised to be a pivotal state yet again in this general election.

It is a large state, by population. It is a diverse state – made up of big cities, small hamlets and vast expanses of rural areas. It has, at times, trended Democratic and Republican.

The previous two presidential elections raised the issue of voter confidence in the election process. What is your office doing to ensure that nearly each vote is counted?

When I ran for and was elected secretary of state, I established four goals for the office, the first being to restore and ensure trust in Ohio’s elections.

Late last year my office commissioned a top-to-bottom review of the voting systems in use in Ohio, a review that included the touch-screen electronic voting machines as well as the paper-ballot, optical scan systems.

The $1.9 million federally funded study found that all of the voting systems used in Ohio had significant problems, especially the electronic voting machines.

The study’s researchers found that the electronic voting machines could be widely susceptible to tampering and that they lacked the basic security features that are common in the technology used in our banking and communications systems.

In the wake of the study, I have crafted recommendations to present to Gov. Strickland and the leaders of the state legislature for their consideration including a plan to move the 50 plus counties around Ohio that use electronic voting as their main voting system to an optical scan paper ballot system.

Discussions between our office, the governor, the legislature and other parties on these important issues remain ongoing at this time.

Additionally, my office has made a priority of increased communication with the boards of elections around the state and has increased the numbers of regional liaisons and elections counsel in the office who work with the elections boards in every corner of Ohio.

For students who choose not to vote, why should they?

This November’s election is an opportunity for all voters to have a say in who will run our government. The issues in the race are important and will have a bearing on all of us.

The greatest measure of the health of a democracy is participation.

Get out and vote!

Contact student politics reporter Jenna Staul at [email protected].