Bill Combats Imaginary Voter Fraud

Nathan Carpenter, Editor-in-Chief

In December, I wrote in the Review that the election of President Donald Trump and Republicans nationwide signaled an impending battle for voting rights across the country (“Voting by Mail Removes Barriers to Polls,” Dec. 2). Now, that fight has come to Ohio.

The 12 members of the Ohio House’s Government Accountability and Oversight Committee voted House Bill 41 out of committee along partisan lines Wednesday. It will now go to a vote of the entire State House, where Republicans hold an overwhelming majority.

The intent of HB 41 is to restrict the ease of in-person early voting in Ohio, ostensibly with the goal of reducing voter fraud. The state’s current early voting policy is that photo ID is not required to vote early in person or by way of a mail-in absentee ballot. If HB 41 becomes law, in-person early voters will be required to present a form of photo ID, while absentee voters will still not be required to do so.

Increased restrictions on voting, especially early voting, are nothing new for Ohio voters. In 2014, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted eliminated a week of early voting known as “Golden Week,” during which African-American voters were up to five times more likely to vote than white voters. Husted was also found to be illegally purging voter registrations due to voter inactivity.

Further regulation of early voting practices will make voting more difficult for low-income voters, young voters and voters of color, who tend to take advantage of early voting to a much greater extent than high-income and white voters. For people who work, particularly in the service industry, it’s often difficult to get time off on a Tuesday to go vote. Clear early voting practices provide valuable opportunities to make it easier for everybody to vote. Research on voter-ID laws in other states reveals that such legislation exacerbates the voter participation gap between white voters and voters of color.

“When a bill like this shows up on the committee schedule, it can look harmless. But if you scratch the surface, you see exactly who it goes after — minority voters, women voters, and Democratic voters who use in-person early voting more than other groups. While purportedly about reducing paperwork, HB 41 is really an attack on an easy voting method that many Ohioans juggling work and family like to use,” said Ohio State Representative Kathleen Clyde.

Ultimately, voter ID laws decrease the turnout of Democratic voters by nearly eight points, according to The Washington Post. Republican turnout is negatively impacted as well, but not as greatly.

That is why there is an increasing incidence of strict voter-ID laws in states controlled by Republicans. The few states still under Democratic control are moving in the opposite direction and seeing improved voter turnout. In 2016, Oregon implemented an automatic voter registration system that greatly increases the accessibility of voting. Since that rule change, turnout among young voters has increased by 20 points statewide and registration of voters of color increased by 26 points. A similar automatic voter registration law will be implemented in California in July 2017.

While not directly analogous to Ohio’s HB 41, Oregon’s new legislation shows that making voting more accessible greatly increases turnout among the same demographics that Republicans, in Ohio and elsewhere, are attempting to suppress in the name of reducing voter fraud.

Allegations of voter fraud are nothing more than a political dog whistle from conservatives who want to ensure that people who support them can vote and that people who support Democrats can’t. Voter fraud is incredibly rare in the United States and does not impact elections; a recent study found only 31 instances of voter impersonation — the kind of fraud that is supposedly addressed by voter ID laws — out of over 1 billion ballots cast. To argue that voter fraud is a serious issue disregards the facts and misleads voters.

Restrictive voter ID laws would not solve any problems for the state of Ohio, but they would create a whole host of new problems for voters who now find it much more difficult to make their voices heard.

In any democracy, but particularly one with such a low incidence of voter fraud, voting should be a simple and accessible process. Some states, like Oregon and California, are taking steps to ensure that it is, while Ohio and many others are intentionally moving in the opposite direction. Republican leaders are dangerously misguided in proposing legislation that will deliberately disenfranchise certain demographics of voters — a bill that is a solution to an imaginary problem.