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Debate Heating Up Again Over Voter ID in Ohio

Republican State Rep. John Becker says voter fraud is a problem in Ohio.

“You know the issue is there has been some documented issues of fraud going on," Becker said. "There’s a perception that having voter ID would go a long way to eliminate some of the current fraud that we know of, and what might be more concerning is the fraud that we don’t know of, you know what’s slipping through the cracks.”

Becker’s photo ID bill, which was introduced earlier this year, would require Ohio voters to show a valid driver’s license or state-issued identification card before casting a ballot. He says his bill makes sure low-income Ohioans who do not have those types of identification could get them free of charge.

“It does provide for a free photo ID for anybody who can’t afford it and they are at or below the federal poverty level," Becker said.

Becker’s plan has the support of Chris Long, the president of the Ohio Christian Alliance. And Long said recent polling shows it has the support of most Ohioans too.

“Some 70 percent of Ohioans support an idea of photo ID requirement for the polls to cast a ballot," Long said. "There’s been some recent polls as well that indicate those numbers are holding. So we feel that it’s time to bring photo ID to Ohio."

“Your right to vote is a fundamental right, and infringements on that right are not subject to popularity polls," said Democratic State Rep. Mike Curtin.

Curtin and his Democratic colleague Rep. Kathleen Clyde oppose the photo ID plan.

Clyde said polls often show high support because voters don’t understand the ramifications of photo ID. But she said once voters learn how it will affect the poor, students, minorities and women, they don’t like it. She pointed to the recent voter rejection of photo ID law in Minnesota as an example.

Clyde and Curtin said two groups of citizens are often most affected by photo ID laws.

“Unfortunately, the greater number of women living in poverty will be impacted by these decisions," Clyde said.

“Ask any nursing home administrator what percentage of the residents of that nursing home have a driver’s license or an equivalent photo ID. In the last two years of my dad’s life, when he was in an assisted living facility, he was not able to drive, had no need for a photo ID," Curtin said. "Those are the type of people you disenfranchise with this legislation."

Clyde and Curtin said there isn’t a problem with voter fraud in Ohio and add photo ID is an answer to a problem that doesn’t exist. But Clyde and Curtin estimated photo ID would burden Ohio taxpayers with a cost of about $7 million a year.

“I think there are a lot of issues we are interested in addressing, real problems, real solutions in a bipartisan way," Clyde said. "But this is not one of them."

“If we're going to spend money, millions and millions of dollars to improve the system, we should be investing in technology to make sure that we have the best, newest technology in all 88 counties, so that the boards of elections could do their work in the most efficient fashion," Curtin said.

The debate over photo identification is just the tip of the iceberg of proposed voting changes lawmakers could consider in the coming year. And it’s possible voters could be asked to weigh in as Democrats are coming up with a proposed constitutional amendment that they say would guarantee some basic voter protections.

Nick Castele is a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media.