FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, September 20, 2013
Secretary of State Husted Addresses Presidential
Commision on Election Administration in Cincinnati
CINCINNATI – Earlier this morning, Secretary of State Jon Husted addressed the Presidential Commission on Election Administration about what is being done in Ohio to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat. The event took place at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Presidential Commission on Election Administration was establish by the Executive Order in March of 2013. Chaired by the former general counsels of the Obama and Romney presidential campaigns, the goal is to identify best practices in election administration and to provide recommendations to improve the voting experience. The hearing in Cincinnati represents the panel’s fifth public meeting. For more information about the Presidential Commission on Election Administration visit www.supportthevoter.gov.
Secretary Husted’s comments from today’s event have been included below.
Presidential Commission on Elections Administration
Cincinnati, Ohio - September 20, 2013
Remarks by Secretary of State Jon Husted
Mr. Bauer, Mr. Ginsberg, Members of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration –
On behalf of the people of Ohio, (who by the way welcome their 10-month reprieve from presidential campaign robo calls) let me welcome you to the most important swing state in the nation!
November 2012 was my first presidential election as Ohio Secretary of State. Even though I knew I had assembled a great team, had confidence in the abilities of our 88 bipartisan boards of elections and was comfortable that we had prepared for all known contingencies, I carried a healthy amount of caution going into Election Day. But there was one moment early on when it knew it was all going to be just fine.
With just a few minutes in between meetings, I flipped on the news. Much of the coverage to that point had been about long lines in Florida, and CNN was just concluding another segment about it. The anchor threw back to a reporter who was live from a polling location in Blue Ash, Ohio (not far from here in Hamilton County). In the background of the shot, you could see some voters casting their ballots, but there were also vacant booths and no lines to speak of. The reporter turned to one of our poll workers and asked what he thought about what was going on in the Sunshine State. Without missing a beat, this poll worker quipped “tell them to come to Ohio and we’ll show ‘em how to do it.” I thought to myself that’s right on, we do know how to do it and everything went fine.
I’m not here to pick on Florida. And Ohio’s successes certainly didn’t happen by chance.
Improving Ohio’s Elections System
We have worked very hard to improve the way our state runs its elections. But we also had to learn some tough lessons, especially following the 2004 Presidential Election when Ohio saw long lines in a handful of precincts.
If you think of voting like a highway system, you have one of two ways to alleviate traffic. You can add lanes, in this case, voting machines. Or, you can reduce cars on the road during rush hour, in this analogy – the number of voters going to the polls at the same time. Following the 2004 Election we chose the latter by adopting no-fault absentee voting. I served as House Speaker at the time and supported this reform. Our goal was to take some of the pressure off polling places on Election Day by giving all voters a chance to vote an absentee ballot in the weeks leading up to the election. From the time we changed the law until now, absentee voting has continued to grow in popularity with voters and elections officials alike. (Although its growth has slowed).
You see, in Ohio we take our status as a swing state very seriously. Every four years, unlike the pure red and pure blue states, Ohio’s elections system goes under the national microscope. My priority has been to make it “Easy to Vote and Hard to Cheat.” And despite the high level of scrutiny we endured on both fronts in 2012, I am proud that we were able to deliver a smooth and fair election.
Easy To Vote…
It’s easy to vote in Ohio. In fact, Ohio is a leader in voter access. With no-fault absentee voting, Ohioans were able to cast ballots over the course of five weeks leading up to the election without ever leaving their home.
If a voter waited in a line in Ohio, it was by choice. Why? Because for the first time, my office sent absentee ballot applications to all registered voters statewide who had current addresses on file -- about 6.9 million. Other than the states who vote exclusively by mail, Ohio was the only state to go to such lengths to make it convenient for voters to participate.
Ohio voters also benefitted from more online services, including a new online change of address system, and a higher percentage of provisional ballots were counted in 2012 as compared to 2008. In fact, according to the EAC’s data, Ohio had one of the lowest rejection rates in the nation.
…Hard To Cheat
We have also worked to ensure the integrity of our election system, leveraging technology to dramatically improve the accuracy of our voter rolls. And following the election we issued the first ever statewide report on voter fraud and voter suppression to give all Ohioans confidence that the rules were followed and their votes were not diluted by those seeking to game the system.
Accurate Voter Rolls: The Backbone of a Smooth & Fair Election
Accurate, up-to-date voter rolls are the backbone of ensuring a smooth and fair election. I am pleased to report that Ohio’s voter rolls are in the best shape they have been in since Ohio first created a statewide voter registration database.
When I took office, we had complete information on only 20 percent of voters. Because of our partnership with the BMV and our efforts to build the infrastructure to share data between the two agencies (which no one had tried to do before), we now have complete information on 86 percent of voters. In two short years, we have more than quadrupled the amount of valuable voter information! (This is important because it is the data used to validate a voter’s eligibility or lack thereof).
We were the first state to use the STEVE database from the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems, which includes death records not just from Ohio, but from other states’ departments of health. This allows us to legally and accurately remove deceased voters from the rolls. Since I took office, boards have verified and removed more than 237,000.
Our county boards have also been diligent about processing duplicate registrations. In January of 2011, there were more than 340,000 duplicate records identified. Just before the 2012 election, we were down to 1,400, and boards keep on plugging along.
And following the election our work to clean up Ohio’s voter lists allowed us to use the Interstate Crosscheck System championed by Kansas Secretary of State Chris Kobach to research and refer approximately 20 voters who we believe may have voted in two states. Currently, this system uses data shared by 22 states and we hope more states will participate in the future, but without good data, this would not have been possible.
Our new online change of address system has also played a major role in our efforts to keep voter records up-to-date. We know that the most common reason a voter must cast a provisional rather than a regular ballot is because they did not update their address information. In Ohio, we are working to empower the voters to keep their own information current. They need only go online at www.MyOhioVote.com. It’s easy and more convenient.
Just prior to the Election, we took it a step further, proactively sending postcards to Ohioans who we knew had moved, encouraging them to update their address online.
And this year when Ohio boards conducted the federally-mandated national change of address process, for the first time, boards were able to give voters the option of updating their information online, making it easier for them to STAY ON the rolls.
In one year’s time, nearly 126,000 Ohioans have used the new system and we expect that number to grow steadily in coming years as more Ohioans become aware of it.
Full Online Voter Registration – the Next Step
The next logical step is to implement full online voter registration. For three years, I have been pushing the General Assembly to pass legislation. I see it as an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to find common ground. It’s infinitely more convenient for voters than the paper system and more secure because it allows for real-time verification of eligibility. An online system is also more efficient and less costly for board of elections, not to mention more accurate as there is less data entry and the voters control their own information. If the legislature finally takes action, it will save the taxpayers millions of dollars in keeping with our goal of making it “Easy to Vote and Hard to Cheat.”
One of the things I am most proud of and believe other states could adopt as a best practice, is our Military Ready-to-Vote program. We work closely with military branches and organizations to distribute voting materials and to educate military families on what they need to know to participate in Ohio elections no matter where they are stationed.
August marked two-year anniversary of our program. To date, we have received more than 2,400 Federal Post Card Applications from military and overseas Ohioans stationed all around the world in 35 states, 15 countries and even six Navy ships. Our efforts were recognized by the Association of the U.S. Army and the Military Voter Protection Project deemed Ohio an “All Star” state. That’s a status we wear as a badge of honor and plan to keep building upon in the future.
Poll Worker Recruitment & Training
Recruitment and training of good poll workers for Election Day is and remains a major focus in Ohio. Poll workers are the front lines and the face of elections for many voters in Ohio. In 2012, we needed an army of about 40,000 to staff more than 4,800 polling locations. Though, recruitment, hiring and training are the responsibility of the 88 county boards of elections, the Secretary of State’s office works to support boards and our poll workers.
In 2012, though only new poll workers were required by law to go through training, by directive, we extended this requirement to all poll workers (new and old) in all counties. To help, we distributed $760,000 in poll worker training funds to boards over the last two years to assist in these efforts. We provide print and online resources free of charge to boards of elections outlining the proper policies and procedures poll workers must follow.
We also created a website at www.PEOinOhio.com where we house our training resources and where potential poll workers can sign up. Since April of 2012, my office has forwarded more than 1,800 potential poll workers to county boards.
Recommendations to the Commission & Conclusion
After every election I believe it is wise to reflect on what lessons can be learned, what should be changed or even more astutely, to remind ourselves to not try to fix what isn’t broken. I believe that’s why you have taken the time to come to Ohio today.
In your worthy desire to make elections run more smoothly in federal election years, I would encourage you to give due respect to the authority of the states to run elections in the best manner for our voters year-round in local, state and federal elections.
I also believe the Ohio Statehouse, not the Congress or a federal courthouse is the proper place to set voting policy for the people of Ohio.
Before entertaining new ideas, I encourage you to help us in addressing some of the shortcomings from previous federal efforts to improve elections -- namely, the underfunded voting machine mandate and what I believe to be contradictory provisions in the National Voter Registration Act that have led to bloated voter rolls.
In 2002, the federal government got involved with the machines we use to vote. It was initially funded, but now more 10 years later, the machines are aging, they need maintenance and at some point in time, will need replaced. The next time we go to the polls to elect a President, these machines will be 12 years old – that’s a lifetime when it comes to technology. The cost of this falls on already-strapped local governments.
Rather than passing new elections requirements, Congress should either fully fund HAVA and commit to long-term funding to maintain accurate, transparent, and independently-tested voting systems, or remove the mandate and return it to the states and local governments.
Additionally, our population is far more transient than I believe the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) contemplated, and was written before we were able to leverage the technology I have talked about today. It relies on the mail system when there are much faster ways for us to communicate with voters and voters with us. As Secretary of State, I want to keep eligible voters on the rolls but also to meet my charge in keeping the rolls accurate and up to date.
I have written to the U.S. Department of Justice to help us in resolving what I see as a contradiction in federal law. Ohio is the subject of pending litigation because there are some Ohio counties which based on the last census, had more registered voters than people of voting age. (Let me reiterate that -- that is more voters on the rolls than the voting age population, not more actual voters which has become an internet myth). This is a hard thing to explain to a skeptical public, but elections officials are largely powerless under the NVRA to remove even voters we know have moved on because we must wait for them to be inactive for two federal cycles. The Justice Department has not provided direction in resolving this matter and any help you can provide in bringing more clarity to our charge under the NVRA would be appreciated.
Finally, I believe that the great strides we have made in Ohio in just a few years on leveraging technology to improve list maintenance can provide a model for the other states in cleaning up our country’s voter rolls. Data-sharing between the states can and should be encouraged by this Commission to ensure our voter rolls nationwide are up-to-date and accurate. It will prevent fraud and also do the most to reduce lines and make Election Day run more smoothly everywhere.
I would be honored to work with you in this and other area as you work toward issuing recommendations to the President. In the words of that poll worker I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks – tell them to come to Ohio and we’ll show ‘em how it’s done!
For more information, please contact Matt McClellan at (614) 995-2239.