Advancing voter restrictions in the great Midwestern swing state

Ohio’s efforts to limit voter turnout and influence elections

Sydney Negron, Staff Reporter

On Tuesday, millions of Ohioans went to the polls to participate in the 2019 general election. This year, voters are being impacted by the culmination of over a decade of laws passed to restrict voting, and these same policies will continue to influence how the state decides in the highly consequential elections of 2020. With the extent of the current restrictions placed on voters in the state, there are serious questions as to whether electoral outcomes will accurately reflect the will of the electorate.

Recent years have seen a nationwide uptick in legislation passed to restrict voting and Ohio stands out as a severe case. Measures taken to limit voter turnout in the state have included toughening voter ID laws, reducing opportunities for early voting and, most recently, passing the nation’s most severe voter purge law. All of these policies serve to make it more difficult for people to vote and to reduce turnout, factors that play a large role in determining electoral results.

The current efforts to restrict voting in the state began over a decade ago. In 2006, state lawmakers passed legislation to require voters to present identification at the polls, one of the nation’s first voter ID laws. While Ohio is more lenient than other states in allowing a variety of non-photo forms of identification, it differs from many in placing the responsibility of confirming identification on the voter. Those who fail to present one of the acceptable forms of identification at the polls are allowed to cast a provisional ballot, but in order for their vote to be counted they must return to an election office within 10 days to confirm their identification.

Ohio has also begun to reverse policies that were enacted to make registering to vote and casting a ballot more accessible. In 2005, the state expanded early voting in a measure that Catherine Turcer, the executive director of Common Cause Ohio, describes as “one of our most popular reforms.” However, in 2014 the state walked back these expansions, moving to reduce the early voting period by a full week and eliminating “Golden Week,” a period in which voters could register and cast a ballot on the same day. 

Voting rights advocates have argued that both voter ID laws and restrictions on early voting have disproportionate effects on minority voters, as both early voting and same-day voter registration are utilized more heavily by these groups. 

Camille Wimbish, the election administration director at Ohio Voice, stated, “We’re most concerned about the impact on people of color, college students and even senior citizens. We just have to be really mindful of our electorate and make sure voting is as accessible to people as possible.” Turcer, speaking for Common Cause Ohio, added, “It doesn’t matter what your intention is. If the laws impact members of one community more than another community, that’s a problem.”

Most recently, the state has come under fire for a voter purge law. The so-called use-it-or-lose-it law allows Ohio to purge from the voter rolls, a list of people eligible to vote, those who have not voted within the last six years and who fail to respond to a notice of their pending removal. The law was heavily contested because the National Voter Registration Act prohibits a state from removing a person from the registry for failing to vote. However, in its last term, the Supreme Court ruled in Ohio’s favor, arguing that the state does not purge voters for simply failing to vote but also requires a voter to fail to respond to notice of the pending removal before they are removed.

While many states have registration purging policies designed to eliminate inaccuracies in voter rolls, Ohio’s law is particularly strict. Jen Miller, the executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, stated that, “It is important to remove individuals who have moved out of state or have deceased [sic] from the rolls, but the current policy is far too extreme.” Many have pointed out that a high percentage of voters participate in only presidential elections and that, under the new law, failing to participate in a single federal election cycle could result in an eligible voter’s removal from the registry due to inactivity for six years. 

The state’s voter purge law began facing renewed criticism last month after significant errors in which voters were set to lose their registrations were found. After the state released the list of voters to be purged, it was found that nearly 20 percent of those set to lose their registrations, a group of nearly 40,000 people, were wrongly placed on the list. Voting rights groups have asserted that voter purging is a responsibility the state should not take lightly. Miller stated that, “Even one voter who is removed wrongfully is one too many. There are better ways to manage our voter rolls that could actually make our lists more accurate, modern and secure.” 

From voter ID laws and reductions in early voting to registration purges, the Ohio electorate is being heavily influenced by efforts from the state to restrict voting. While the 2019 general election consisted mostly of small, local positions, Ohio will play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the 2020 election. How this swing state votes will be heavily influenced by the recent movement to restrict voting.