Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell has been at the center of the state's attempt to revise election laws. There are a number of controversial revisions that Blackwell has set forth. In one key revision, Blackwell's proposed voter registration rules specify that a person is defined as an individual human being. The law would require that the person who registers voters must deliver the registration forms directly to election officials. By specifying that a "person" must handle the forms, the rule poses a threat to advovacy groups, college clubs, unions, and other organizations that hold voter registration drives as an entity. These groups would have considerable difficulty getting their voter registration forms processed.
Democrats in Ohio brought foward two motions against Blackwell's rules, but in yesterday's hearing of the Joint Committee on Rule Review, Blackwell's rules were upheld in a 6-4 vote along party lines.
Supporters of Blackwell's reforms claim that tightening the rules will bring greater accountability. Similar cries in the name of accountability were evoked 2004 when Blackwell was behind a law that specified that registration forms must be of a particular paper weight to be validated. All of the Secretary's proposed rules all too readily sacrifice voter's rights in favor of rigid laws and accountability. Voters in Ohio will be subject to more complicated registration laws than those in other states. Uniform election standards would bridge this gap and ensure citizens in all states follow the same registration and voting procedures.
Perhaps more astounding than the lack of uniformity across states is the fact that partisans authorize electoral laws. Fairvote's Democracy SoS Program features a catalogue of the specific duties of each Secretary of State. Look up your state's SoS here. In Ohio (as in many states), the Secretary of State is charged with overseeing election laws. J. Kenneth Blackwell, who was elected to his position with a public party affliation, is writing the rules for how elections in Ohio work. He is also in the midst of his 2006 campaign for Governor. This partisan politicking is reminiscent of the 2004 election when Blackwell was an Honorable Co-Chair of the Committee to Re-elect George W. Bush in Ohio. Blackwell had authority over the procedures for validating provisional ballots in '04. Ohio was of course a hotbed of controversy when a large number of provisional ballots in the battleground state were thrown out.
These problems are not the fault of partisans, who predictibly act in their own self-interest, but instead the fault of the current electoral laws. States need nonpartisan election officials to administer elections. Voters would also benefit from uniform standards for provisional ballots. A provisional ballot should count, even if it's cast in the wrong precinct.
The current situation in Ohio has commonly been referred to as a fox-guarding-the-henhouse scenario. Although Ohio is an easy target this year, there are many vulnerable henhouses across the states. For more information about intiatives that would ensure that all citizens are able to cast a free and fair ballot, visit the Right to Vote Initiative. Also, read more on various voting policies and procedures at the Democracy SoS Project.
Maggie is a FairVote intern for the Voting and Democracy Research Center. She is a graduate student, executive producer, and is okay with Borf tags.