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Monday, February 28, 2011

Secretary of State Jon Husted Calls for Elections Reform Legislation

Husted "Ready 2012 and Beyond" proposals designed to modernize and improve overall operation of Ohio elections and build voter confidence in the results

COLUMBUS, Ohio – At a Statehouse press conference today, Secretary of State Jon Husted outlined his priorities for improving the overall administration of Ohio elections. With the 2012 Presidential Election on the horizon, Husted will work closely with legislative leaders and the Governor to see these changes passed into law and implemented as soon as possible.

"The 2012 Presidential Election will have a tremendous impact on our state and nation. My goal is to ensure that the focus is on candidates, not on the process for electing them," Secretary Husted said. "For the vast majority of Ohioans, our elections system works very well, but there are changes we can make to improve overall access and accuracy and thereby, build more confidence in the results."

On-line Voter Registration and Change of Address
Secretary Husted is calling for on-line voter registration and for giving registered voters the opportunity to change their address electronically. This convenience to voters would also assist boards of elections and potentially reduce errors by cutting back on data entry. To protect against fraudulent registrations, the on-line system would require a valid Ohio driver's license or state identification card to participate. Husted noted that according to an informal survey of the 88 county boards of elections, of the provisional ballots cast in the last general election, nearly half were due to the fact that the voter moved or changed their name and did not notify their board of elections prior to Election Day. This on-line system would make it easier for Ohioans to keep their information up-to-date so they can vote a regular ballot on Election Day.

Improving Casting and Counting of Provisional Ballots
Provisional ballots are required under federal law and are an important safeguard for verifying the validity of ballots cast. Provisional ballots commonly are given to those who have not updated their voting information, failed to provide identification at the polls or to those who may have already voted absentee or in another precinct. It is important to note that in the 2010 election, of the 105,000 provisional ballots cast, 90 percent were counted. Nearly half of the remaining 10 percent were not counted because these individuals were not eligible Ohio voters – just what the system is designed to catch. It's the remaining small but important five percent that have caused confusion and controversy. While recognizing that there will always be a need for provisional ballots and that in high-turnout elections, the provisional ballot count will inevitably increase, Secretary Husted is proposing changes for now and in the future to reduce errors on the front-end and help ensure more valid provisional ballots are counted.

Ohio law provides that ballots cast in the wrong precinct are not eligible to be counted. Husted wants to deploy new technology that could help get voters to the correct precinct. In addition to making it easier for voters to keep their information up-to-date through on-line registration, Secretary Husted also wants the authority to certify electronic poll books, technology which would allow poll workers access to county-wide voter information rather than relying up on the printed, precinct-based paper poll books and maps. This additional information would assist them in helping voters on Election Day, including directing them to the correct precinct and ensuring they use the appropriate ballot style.

On the counting front, Secretary Husted would require absentee voters and those voting provisionally to provide all nine digits of their Social Security numbers rather than the last four under existing law (or an Ohio drivers' license or state identification number). The complete number provides boards of elections a much better chance of verifying the validity of the ballot.

More Accurate Statewide Voter Database
Secretary Husted is also looking for authority to enhance and develop a more centralized Statewide Voter Database to easily cross check voter information files against the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the Ohio Department of Health, Social Security death files, Ohio Department of Job & Family Services and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Corrections. This enhanced infrastructure would also allow Secretary Husted to pursue agreements for data sharing with other states to better track voters who move from one state to the other, preserving the one person - one vote principle. A number of other states are already sharing data as a way to better ensure the integrity of their voter rolls. Secretary Husted would like Ohio to be part of that effort.

Uniform Statewide Early Voting Standards
No-fault absentee voting by mail and in-person (early voting) has made it easier than ever for Ohioans to exercise their right to vote; however, different counties have different standards and varying resources for administering early voting. Secretary Husted is proposing statewide standards to govern this process.

Husted's proposal would set the window for absentee voting at 21 days by mail and 16 days in-person prior to Election Day. All boards of elections would be required to be open for a few hours on the Saturdays within the in-person voting period and to be closed on Sundays. In order to give boards of elections time to update their poll books and voter rolls prior to Election Day, all in-person absentee voting would end the Friday before the election. Because the deadline for voter registration would remain at 30 days before the election, these new timeframes for absentee voting would effectively eliminate the so-called "golden week," an unintended consequence of Ohio law, where voters have been able to register and vote on the same day, bypassing important safeguards in the system. Husted's proposal would not change the voting period for military voters, which is, and would remain 45 days. Additionally, county boards of elections would no longer be able to solicit absentee ballot participation by mailing applications to all voters and from paying the return postage on applications or voted ballots.

"A well-run system of elections requires the right balance between voter access and accuracy, and I believe the changes I am proposing will go a long way to help achieve that balance," Secretary Husted said. "However, no law change can ever replace the most important factor in making elections run smoothly -- the responsibility of the voters to do their part."

This includes: 1) Registering to vote 30 days prior to the election and keeping their information current; 2) Knowing their polling place and correct precinct, and 3) Remembering to bring identification with them to the polls."

Secretary Husted will work with legislators in coming weeks to draft his proposals into bill form for consideration by the full General Assembly.

Click here to read the Ready 2012 Fact Sheet (PDF)


For more information, please contact Maggie Ostrowski at (614) 752-2450 or mostrowski@sos.state.oh.us.


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