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Ohio Adds to List of States with Online Voter Registration

By Michael Thorning

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ohio enacted legislation yesterday, providing for an online voter registration system to be implemented shortly after the upcoming presidential election. Online voter registration was a key recommendation of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA), whose work the Bipartisan Policy Center is continuing, and BPC’s own Commission on Political Reform. Governor John Kasich signed the bill, S.B. 63, into law after it passed both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly with strong bipartisan support.

“The steady trend toward online voter registration should continue as every state should allow eligible citizens to register to vote and to update their registrations via the internet.”

– Report of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration

BPC is actively working on voter registration and cross-state data-sharing policy in several states across the country to educate policymakers on the importance of both to a more efficient election administration system. We have been especially engaged in Ohio on online voter registration since before the release of the PCEA report. In May 2015, PCEA Co-Chairs Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg sent a letter to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted outlining the many benefits of online registration and offering the commission’s expertise to policymakers in the state.

“Ohio will benefit from an online voter registration platform implementation done well… We stand ready to provide information and expertise to Ohio election policymakers as they consider implementing online voter registration.”

– PCEA Co-Chairs Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg

BPC fellows Donald Palmer and Tammy Patrick each testified before the Ohio General Assembly in 2015. In his testimony, Palmer, a former director of elections in both Florida and Virginia, described online voter registration as “… truly a bipartisan election administration reform. It is designed to make voter registration more efficient and secure and not provide an advantage to one political party or demographic over another.” Palmer also told legislators that online registration can be beneficial for military and overseas voters who often face challenges in registering to vote and updating their voter registration. He told that committee that:

“Online voter registration provides an opportunity for military service members to register online with instantaneous verification and processing rather than relying on mail service that may be delayed in transit or the processing of that paper registration, all factors that may impact the ability to vote.”

Patrick, a former election official from Arizona and PCEA commissioner, detailed to legislators the multiple benefits of implementing online voter registration. She noted that online registration achieves efficiencies in cost, administration, and the quality of the voter registration database. Patrick also addressed whether online registration benefits one political party over another, stating:

“There is the inevitable concern that the introduction of OVR will somehow benefit one political party over another, which will contribute to a shift in the composition of the electorate. Yet, OVR is one policy that advocates on both sides of the aisle agree is good policy… states that have instituted OVR show that the voters who use it reflect the demographic of the voters already on the file.”

Ohio Senator Frank LaRose (R), the primary sponsor of S.B. 63, spoke of the need for implementing an online voter registration system in his state in January, when BPC hosted a two-year retrospective on the progress made on implementing the PCEA’s recommendations. LaRose said of his bill at the time, “… we don’t often do elections reform with bipartisan votes in Ohio. For whatever reason, people tend to retreat to their corners on elections reform issues, but on this one I was really proud that we had strong Democratic support and strong Republican support.”

After the bill was signed into law, LaRose thanked BPC for its work to see online registration pass in the state.

With Ohio’s enactment of this law, it becomes the 32nd state to adopt an online voter registration system. BPC and the PCEA will continue working across the country to see this recommendation implemented in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 

KEYWORDS: OHIO, JON HUSTED, BOB BAUER, BEN GINSBERG, ONLINE VOTER REGISTRATION, JOHN KASICH