Make Voting Easier

Ohio House should join Senate to approve online voter registration

The Columbus Dispatch Editorial Staff - Monday June 29, 2015 5:45 AM

Now that the Ohio Senate has voted overwhelmingly to authorize online voter registration, Ohio’s hopes for easier, cheaper and more-accurate registration lie with the House of Representatives. Senate Bill 63 passed 31-1 in the Senate; the House should approve it, too.

Secretary of State Jon Husted, who has advocated tirelessly for better voting laws, has been asking for online registration for years. He has been rebuffed repeatedly by fellow Republicans who have claimed that it would invite fraud. S.B. 63 is the first standalone voter-registration bill, among a number of attempts in recent years, to win approval.

To date, House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, has not supported online registration. He opposed it earlier in the year and more recently has been noncommittal. If he still believes he has a legitimate reason to oppose it, he should explain it.

Save for the partisan concern, which shouldn’t be a factor in the decision, Husted has rebutted fraud claims many times.

The current, paper-and-pencil method of registration has no magical defense against fraud; people can write anything they want on the forms. Verifying the information is laborious and time-consuming. With an online system, a new registration could be cross-checked electronically with other state databases, such as the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Ease of verification is the reason that the bill allows online registration only for people with Ohio driver’s licenses or state I.D. cards.

Discrepancies could be found quickly. Simple errors could be corrected and serious issues, such as a registration by people who aren’t U.S. citizens, could be addressed in many cases before elections. By contrast, after the 2012 election, a review of Ohio registrations found that 291 were for non-citizens and that 17 of those had cast votes. Some were in Franklin County.

Online registration also would be more accurate — voters typing their own names and addresses are less likely to make errors than elections staff transcribing from written cards.

Finding and fixing such errors quickly is more than a matter of convenience; when they surface on Election Day, the voter is required to vote with a provisional ballot, to be counted only after the identification issue is resolved.

High numbers of provisional ballots cast suspicion over Ohio’s elections, and with the nation’s eyes on Ohio as a key swing state, that suspicion serves no one.

On top of all that, online registration would save taxpayers a considerable sum — as much as $2 per registration, according to Husted. In 2013, he told a group of county elections officials that if online registration been in place between 2010 and 2012, it would have saved Ohio between $1.5 million and $3 million.

Wednesday’s Senate vote was a long-sought victory for Husted and for Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Fairlawn, the bill’s sponsor. LaRose, along with Democratic Rep. Michael Stinziano of Columbus, has been pushing for this eminently sensible change for years.

It is long overdue; of 28 states that have or are in the process of implementing online voter registration, none has reported any fraud or security breaches.

House members should quickly make this registration opportunity available to the voters of Ohio.