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Ohio Lawmakers Want To Push Stalled Voter ID Bill

Juliet Fromholt

A group of conservative Ohio lawmakers thinks it’s time the legislature pass a bill under consideration that would require voters to show a valid driver’s license or state issued photo ID before they can cast a ballot.

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 of voter fraud cases in the 2012 election.

“The reality is that even if there are a couple of hundred cases that we document, that undoubtedly means there are many, many more where the deceivers have been successful and have been able to vote without getting caught and so, the need for a photo voter id," says Long.

But Republican State Representative 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?  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 if you are voting in one place," syas Brenner. "But I think there’s been a major concern that people have been voting here and voting in their home state.  And if you have a photo id, you can verify that and potentially, if there is any fraud or anything comes out, you can trace it back and verify to that state that this is where it is coming from.

“Have they proved they are voting in both places or are they assuming they are voting in both places?" says Peg Rosenfield with the Ohio League of Women Voters.  She’s a longtime opponent of the photo voter id bill because she says it disenfranchises people who are poor, senior citizens and others. “It just keeps coming back.  We keep hearing it over and over.”

Rosenfield says this bill is not needed because there is 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 id’s with voting.  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 to go about holding elections.”

The discharge petition would require the signatures of fifty 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’s 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.