Heated debate continues over Ohio House Bill 159, the voter-ID bill, as it moves to the Senate after its passage in the House. The bill would require all voters to present a valid Ohio photo identification at the polls.
Representatives Robert Mecklenborg (R) and Louis W. Blessing Jr. (R) introduced the legislation, which passed 57-38 in the House on March 23, with the intention of providing a safeguard against voter fraud.
House Minority Leader Rep. Armond Budish (D) said HB 159 is an expensive solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
“This is the most restrictive photo ID bill in the U.S. to date. It would limit acceptable identification to only that issued by state government,” Budish said. “Twenty-five percent of African American voters and an even higher percentage of Hispanic voters do not have these forms and these are groups that tend to vote democratic.”
“These alleged concerns have not born out when we look to similar initiatives adopted in the states of Indiana and Georgia where more than 1.2 million African Americans voted in the state of Georgia in the 2008 election, an increase of 45 percent over previous years,” Mecklenborg said.
Meagan Cyrus, a third-year in political science and president of College Republicans at OSU, said she believed the new legislation will not hurt voter turnout.
“Studies are showing the same turnout rates,” Cyrus said. “I don’t see it as disenfranchising voters, but as a provision designed to protect the integrity of the elections system.”
Current electoral laws require proof of identification and current address when voting at the polls, however these might include recent utility bills, phone bills and university-issued student IDs.
Under HB 159, the only accepted forms of identification would be a military ID, Ohio state-issued ID, an Ohio driver’s license or a U.S. passport.
Richard Gunther, political science professor and international coordinator of the Comparative National Elections Project, said the bill is an egregious threat to democracy.
“It should be noted that this is no small segment,” Gunther said. “Ten percent of potentially eligible voters do not have state issued IDs. House Bill 159 eliminates alternative sources of identification currently available and requires specially issued ID’s that would have to be purchased from a government agency.”
Proponents of the bill argue that cost of state ID’s should not be a problem, as the bill includes a provision that allows for free photo IDs to be issued to those who cannot afford an ID and who can prove their need.
“As in many cases, the legislation directs the BMV to come up with a simple form that people can fill out so that they may receive their free state ID,” Mecklenborg said. “Also citizens can still vote absentee in Ohio without the photo ID requirement.”
Ann Henkener of the Ohio League of Women voters is skeptic about the practicality of this provision in reality.
“This bill includes a provision if you are indigent, yet does not yet say how one proves this. Also, state agencies do not just hand out IDs,” Henkener said. “In order to obtain one you need a birth certificate, social security card or another form of ID already. Truly indigent people don’t always have these or would have to pay in order to get a copy.”
Students have mixed views about the legislation.
“Current laws have worked in the past so I don’t see a need to change anything,” said Anita Gomez, a fourth-year in international studies. “As long as you can show proof that you are a resident, that should be OK.”
Marissa Lafferty, a third-year in strategic communications, does not think the bill is fair to Ohio citizens.
“Not having a state ID doesn’t mean that you are not a resident,” Lafferty said.
Virginia-native Tarek Mady, a fifth-year in environmental engineering, said he has voted in Ohio elections both before and after he got his official Ohio state ID.
“They say that it might disenfranchise poor people or students, but I would think that those who don’t vote because of this new legislation would probably not have voted anyway,” Mady said. “This may give them more incentive to become an Ohio resident and to come out and vote.”
Steve Schmidt, a fourth-year in civil engineering, agreed with Mady.
“The government provides enough alternatives to making voting easy and accessible. People who want to vote are not going to be obscured by this at all,” Schmidt said.
Mike Dittoe, director of communications for the Ohio House of Representatives, said this legislation is not something that has been put together hastily.
“There has been a lot of debate for a number of years between the members of the House and we’ve talked about revising voter legislation for quite some time now,” Dittoe said.
Mecklenborg also said HB 159 is the first in a series of new voter legislation that will be proposed in the near future.