June 24, 2011

Sudden Rush

Sudden rush

June 22, 2011

The House rushed to approve a flawed photo ID requirement for Ohio voters. Now Republican senators are doing the same

In March, Republicans in charge of the Ohio House hustled to passage misguided legislation requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls. The expectation was, the state Senate would take a more deliberative approach, even put off action until the fall. Then, on Tuesday morning, Keith Faber, the chairman of the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee, delivered the big surprise: The photo ID proposal would be folded into a larger elections bill headed for a committee vote in the afternoon and a floor vote today.

Faber argued, essentially, the timing is right, the elections bill headed for passage. Of course, he and his colleagues have known about the long-in-the-works elections proposal for months. If anything, the photo ID bill offended so many because it did not receive the ample airing of the overhaul legislation.

Now, the Senate simply has incorporated the flawed language of the House bill, the requirement that voters present a driver’s license, passport or other government-issued identification card with a photograph. Sound fairly reasonable? Consider that many people with disabilities do not have such identification. One estimate holds that one-quarter of African-Americans and one-fifth of Ohioans over age 65 do not have a photo ID.

Remember, Republican lawmakers already addressed the identification requirement a few years ago, many voters now showing a photo ID at the polls, or a copy of a current utility bill, paycheck or other government document that contains the voter’s name and address. All of this was done in the name of preventing voter fraud, though the problem didn’t exist then — and it still does not.

Jon Husted, the secretary of state, has explained, reasonably, that he could support the photo ID requirement as long as voters have other options for proving their identity at the polls. He now has been stiffed by his fellow Republicans.

The thinking of the majority is curious. Republicans have fanned concern for the false problem of voter fraud, the party of less bureaucracy adding new hoops. In doing so, they have opened the way to real concerns, registered voters facing undue difficulties casting ballots, disenfranchisement, in a word.

Not surprisingly, many of the affected voters are more likely to side with Democratic candidates. The photo ID proposal fits into the pattern of Republican majorities in other states. More, it reflects subtler changes in the larger elections bill, broadening the field for voter error and disqualification, leaving ballots vulnerable to mistakes by poll workers, excessively narrowing the time for early voting.

Republicans carp about the sharp elbows of Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat and the previous secretary of state. Yet she sought a truly inclusive effort to repair the shortcomings in Ohio elections. Now that process has devolved, Republicans inviting the impression of a party in power looking to serve first its own agenda, not the larger interest of the state.