Fixing the Vote

Fixing the Vote

The Columbus Dispatch

Fixing the vote
Modernize Ohio’s election system to ensure a valid vote
Sunday, March 6, 2011 02:58 AM

State lawmakers should speed consideration of election reforms that would permit online voter registration, fight fraud, save money and spare Ohio from lawsuits in the 2012 national elections.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s proposals, unveiled Monday, also would narrow the window for early voting so it no longer overlaps with same-day registration — a recipe for fraud.

He also wants to employ electronic poll books so ballots aren’t disqualified if voters were directed to the wrong precinct table at their polling place. This leads to piles of uncounted votes, disenfranchising citizens and prompting court challenges from losing candidates.

On the whole, Husted’s changes seem obvious and overdue.

Take, for example, his proposal to permit voters to go online to register or file a change of address. Many voters already start the process on the Web. But they must print the forms, scrawl in the information and find a mailbox.

In Franklin County, the board pays employees overtime or hires seasonal workers to type this information back into a computer.

That’s circuitous and expensive.

In Maricopa County, Ariz., home to Phoenix, processing an online application costs about 3 cents; processing a paper application cost 83 cents, according to a study released last year by the Pew Center on the States.

Researchers for the nonpartisan think tank also studied online voting in Washington; counties in that state saved between 50 cents and $2 for each application processed online. Voters overwhelming liked the online systems, and election officials cited improved accuracy when voters directly entered their data.

Some critics fear allowing online registration would enable fraud. It’s the opposite.

The Internet has revolutionized how we conduct business: Americans today routinely trust online transactions for banking, filing federal tax forms and paying credit card bills. Secure, encrypted connections, identifying images and questions protect clients from scammers.

Husted’s system would do the same, but also tap into state databases — drivers’ licenses, death records and welfare services — to determine that voters trying to register actually exist.

Mickey Mouse, Jack B. Nimble or Bipartisan Street — all of whom have tried to register in Franklin County — would be caught. So would voters registered by shady groups, using fake names or addresses of vacant lots.

Not all of Husted’s reforms will be embraced enthusiastically.

Democrats are likely to vigorously oppose his effort to end in-person early voting on Sundays, which lures busloads of church-goers or family groups.

Husted also would prohibit counties from mailing absentee applications to all voters, and paying return postage. He says this favors voters in counties able to afford it. But a federal judge has ruled that Ohio voters aren’t cheated by such differences in voting experiences; they aren’t a constitutional injury.

This proposal should be thoroughly debated: Large counties, including Franklin, employ mass mailings of absentee-ballot applications to prevent long lines on Election Day.

But another idea Husted is mulling — allowing voters to apply online for an absentee ballot — could make the controversy moot.

Legislators and Gov. John Kasich will have to sign off on most of the reforms. Leaders shouldn’t dally: Ohio should remain a prize state for candidates, not lawyers claiming a botched election.