COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Senate Bill 186, a bill of significant size and impact that addresses voter verification and registration, was scheduled for a hearing Tuesday, but its bipartisan sponsors are calling for a short delay.
The bill was introduced in August by State Senators Vernon Sykes (Akron-D) and Nathan Manning (North Ridgeville-R). About three weeks later, it was assigned to the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee.
It was supposed to get its first hearing in front of the committee Tuesday but according to Sykes, a delay has been requested in order to hear from more interested parties.
Despite not having a single hearing yet, the bill has gone through several changes, according to Sykes. Currently, they are working on draft number five or six, if he recalls correctly. The general basics of the bill have stayed the same, however.
The bill seeks to change how voter registration is conducted and updated primarily through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
“We interact with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) a lot more than we than we do the Board of Elections, so this information would be automatically transferred over to the Board of Elections to update your records,” said Sykes.
Currently, when you get or update your driver’s license, you are asked if you want to register to vote or change your voter registration address. If you do, you are given a paper form to fill out and it is submitted on your behalf.
The bill turns that process around 180 degrees, making the registration or update automatic unless you opt out of doing so.
Also, the paper form would be skipped and the digital information in the BMV system would be used.
Using digital information is supposed to cut down on errors of penmanship or simply transposing digits. This could save money on printing costs as well, as all of the instructions would be on a digital display.
The bill would also allow the Secretary of State to expand this automatic process of registering or updating to other state government entities such as the Department of Taxation or the Department of Jobs and Family Services, for example.
These state agencies have consistent contact with Ohioans and may make appropriate sources to maintain accurate residential records.
Having accurate registration will cut back on errors when it comes to maintaining the voter rolls, something required by state and federal law.
With accurate addresses, people who reach the point where it is necessary the Secretary of State’s office reaches them will receive those notifications.
When tied to the renewal of Ohio’s four-year driver’s license, it will also keep many people from ending up purged due to the active updating of their registration and up-to-date home address.
The bill also potentially cuts back on the need to print excessive amounts of provisional ballots.
“We have very high provisional ballot counts here in Ohio, a lot of times it’s because people are moving and not updating their address,” said Jen Miller, the executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.
Provisional ballots are printed in case someone comes in and wants to vote, but there is a question about their eligibility to do so.
According to Sykes, an Ohio State University study found none of the states that surround Ohio print as many provisional ballots as Ohio does, and it is thought that inaccurate voter registration roles are partially to blame for this use of taxpayer dollars.
He also says Secretary of State Frank LaRose strongly supports the efforts of changing how voter purges are conducted. LaRose has frequently called for updates to the voter registration system, even prior to becoming Secretary of State.
His support of this effort is joined by the non-partisan League of Women Voters of Ohio.
“Our registration system is largely based on a 20th-century model, and now we are in a digital world, so let us harness the capabilities of the digital world to save money, to make our rolls more accurate and secure, and to just make sure that folks are registered at the right location,” said Miller. “This is happening all over the country, it’s common sense. It seems like it’s foreign, but, really, it’s something that I think a lot of voters already expect.”
The bill will have to make it through the legislative process before the end of the General Assembly just over a year from now.
Sykes said he is optimistic about the bill’s chances, but they are not rushing this, adding they want to get it right for the people of Ohio.
Some of the bill’s provisions would go into effect two years after the first January in which it is in effect, which, if Sykes is right and it passes before next December, would be 2022.