Issue 2 to decide absentee voting procedure

Joe Murphy

Voters’ decisions about Issue 2, which will appear on the ballot this Election Day, will determine whether individuals voting with absentee ballots need to provide more than a John Hancock when they vote.

If it passes, Issue 2, which is one of four issues placed on the ballot by Reform Ohio Now, a coalition dominated by Democrats, would require only voters’ signatures. If it fails, Ohioans will follow a new Ohio statute, which would require an additional form of identification, such as a driver’s license number.

Regardless of which prevails, all Ohio voters soon will be able to vote with absentee ballots without providing reasons. Absentee ballots allow registered voters to vote in an election without going to the polls on Election Day. Currently, only voters with one of 16 reasons, such as hospitalization or overseas service in the military, are able to vote absentee.

Both Issue 2 and House Bill 234 – which has been approved by both the Ohio Senate and House – eliminate the need for providing reasons to do so.

On Oct. 18, the Ohio Senate approved House Bill 234, labeled a “no-fault” absentee voting bill. The bill began as a statute allowing 17-year-olds to work at polling places on Election Day and was amended by Senate President Bill Harris (R-Ashland).

Harris included in the bill a motion similar to Issue 2, except the motion added extra precautions against voter fraud, something Harris said Issue 2 did not. The Ohio Senate president asked that proof of identification, such as a driver’s license number, the last four digits of a social security number, a utility bill or a paycheck stub be required of voters when they drop off their ballot at the county Board of Elections.

In contrast, Issue 2 simply would compare voters’ signatures on the absentee ballots with the signatures on file at the board.

House Bill 234 was passed 21-11 by the Ohio Senate and concurred by the House the next day. The bill will go into effect as a statute 90 days after Gov. Bob Taft signs it.

If Issue 2, an Ohio Constitutional amendment, passes, it would outweigh the statute. This means every registered voter would be able to vote absentee without having to provide more than the required signature. If it fails, all Ohio voters would need to provide some form of identification at the Board of Elections when dropping off their absentee ballots.

Whether additional forms of identification for absentee voters are necessary is an issue some debate.

“Our amendment includes protection against what people have told us they’re concerned about,” said Maggie Ostrowski, spokeswoman for Harris and the Senate Republican Caucus. “Our members believe it would reduce the chances of fraud. We don’t believe it’s that much of a hassle. It’s added protection.”

Ohio First, a Republican-backed group, stands against Issue 2, stating it does not provide enough protection against voter fraud. Dave Hopcraft, spokesman for Ohio First, said the group supports the Senate’s approval of the statute.

Keary McCarthy, spokesman for Reform Ohio Now, said nothing warranted the added protection the Senate implemented with the statute.

“From everything I’ve heard, there has been no voter fraud associated with ‘no-fault’ absentee voting,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that our opponents (Ohio First) have planted this seed with no basis whatsoever.”

Anne Martens, communications director for the Oregon Secretary of State, said only four cases of voter fraud have been prosecuted since the state switched to all voting by mail in 1998.

“We really haven’t seen much of a problem,” she said. “We require a signature check on the envelope. We do that for every ballot that comes in.”

Martens said the most recent statistics show that 81 percent of the registered voters prefer vote-by-mail. She also said it has resulted in increased turnout in both local and presidential elections.

“We love it,” she said. “People really appreciate the convenience. They like being able to talk with their neighbors about the issues.”

Martens also stated in a press release that elections done by mail have been 30 percent cheaper than elections at the polling places.

Ohio is still a few steps away from eliminating polling places, but it has become the 25th state to use “no-fault” absentee voting.

McCarthy said he doesn’t expect the Senate’s approval to influence voters on Nov. 8, as he said a poll in the Columbus Dispatch showed 70 percent of voters in support of Issue 2.

Contact public affairs reporter Joe Murphy at [email protected].