Backers of Stalled Voter ID Bill Hope to Force it to a Vote

Voters walk into a polling place in Cleveland's Central neighborhood. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
Voters walk into a polling place in Cleveland's Central neighborhood. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
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The leader of the Ohio Christian Alliance, Chris Long, is supporting lawmakers who have pulled a discharge petition to put an existing bill in the legislature up for vote. If the majority of lawmakers sign that petition, it could force the Ohio House and Senate leaders to let lawmakers in those chambers vote for it.

The bill, which would require voters to show a driver’s license or government-issued ID before casting a ballot, has been stalled in a legislative committee and hasn’t been brought up for a vote by the general assembly. Long says the measure is needed to prevent voter fraud, even though Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted says there were only a little more than 2 thousandths of one percent cases of voter fraud in the 2012 election.

“The reality is, if there are a even just couple of hundred occasions that we document, that undoubtably means there are many, many more where the deceivers have been successful and have been able to vote without getting caught," Long said. "And so, the need for a photo voter ID.”

But Republican State Rep. John Adams, a legislator who has signed the discharge petition, thinks that number could really be much higher.

"What’s the incentive for prosecuting attorneys to prosecute fraud?" Adams said. "I mean they have a finite dollar amount in their budgets, and I don’t think this is high on their priority.”

Another Republican lawmaker who is backing the effort to force a vote on the bill, Andy Brenner, says he’s heard reports of cases where students at universities have been allowed to illegally vote in this swing state.

“Now I don’t have a problem if you are registered to vote here, as long as you only vote in one place," Brenner said. "But I think there’s been a major concern that people are voting here and voting in their home state. And if you have a photo ID, you can verify that and you can potentially, if there is any fraud or anything comes out, you can trace it back and be able to verify to that state that this is where it is coming from."

Peg Rosenfield with the Ohio League of Women Voters is a longtime opponent of the photo voter ID bill because she says it disenfranchises people who are poor, senior citizens and others.

“Have they proved they are voting in both places or are they assuming they are voting in both places?" Rosenfield said. “It just keeps coming back. We keep hearing it over and over.”

Rosenfield says the bill is not needed, because there's virtually no voter fraud now, contrary to what Republicans claim.

Gary Daniels with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio says there are many more voters who are disenfranchised right now under current voting rules. And he says photo voter ID would just worsen that situation.

“The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a general scheme for photo IDs with voting," Daniels said. "But notice that states haven’t been jumping to take advantage of the opportunity that the U.S. Supreme Court has given them. And there’s a reason for that. Because they know that voter fraud, by and large, does not exist, and that putting additional barriers in front of people to vote is not the way that you go about holding elections.”

The discharge petition would require the signatures of 50 members in the House to force it to the floor for an up or down vote. Both chambers are not even expected back until later this fall.

Two years ago, the Ohio House passed a similar voter ID bill, but the plan never made it through the Ohio Senate.

Backers of this discharge petition say if they are not successful with it, they will collect signatures to try to put the issue before voters next fall, in 2015. That’s when voter rights advocates are also expected to put an issue on the ballot to allow Ohioans to vote on a constitutionally protected bill of rights for voters.

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