One spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party characterized House Bill 194 as being about fairness between rural and suburban counties rather than being about Republicans and Democrats. Do you think this characterization is accurate?
House Bill 194 covers much more than a simple distinction between rural and suburban counties. The aspects of the bill going to voters for referendum have much more to do with curtailing access to voting and making it harder for votes to be counted. The bill as it was originally written by a bipartisan team during my administration in the last legislative session had many provisions that were much more favorable to improving voting, but many of these provisions are no longer in the bill.
If voters choose to repeal House Bill 194 in the November 2012 election, do you foresee legislators trying to pass a similar bill at another time?
Senate Bill 5, which was on the ballot for November 8, 2011, to end public sector collectively bargaining and was resoundingly defeated, gives us an indication that legislators will not try to pass another bill on this issue anytime soon, based on legislative leaders’ post-election statements. If the electorate sends a loud and clear message that they don’t agree with H.B. 194, then it’s similarly unlikely legislators will attempt to pass a similar bill.
Do you think there are provisions of House Bill 194 that should be preserved?
Absolutely. House Bill 194 incorporates the ideas of a diverse group of people committed to improving elections in Ohio. But when it didn’t pass at the end of 2010, the bill was revised, and some of the added provisions create problems for administering free and fair elections.
How can Ohio use technology to improve voting?
One provision in House Bill 194 had to do with online voter registration. Shortly after House Bill 194 was passed, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed House Bill 224, which tweaked several provisions of 194. For example, it reduced the voter ID requirement from requiring a full nine-digit Social Security number to requiring only the last four digits of a voter’s Social Security number. In the meantime, Jon Husted, the current Ohio Secretary of State, opposed a voter ID requirement. The online voter registration provision was cut from the bill, possibly in retaliation to Husted opposing voter ID. Overall, I think that online voter registration is a great option, and my only concern would be if it became the only option for voter registration. Limiting voter registration to online registration would affect those in poverty and who don’t have ready access to the Internet. That being said, as contained in HB 194, online voter registration was not the only method to register.
If you could pass any type of election law reform for Ohio, what would it be?
I would specifically create a right to vote, giving judicial review on a challenge to any state voting law for constitutional sufficiency. Such a law would keep legislators focused on what is fair, instead of what is advantageous to a particular party. I would also like to create automatic voter registration with the ability to opt-out. The government has so many databases available to it. For example, voters could be registered upon receiving a driver’s license or upon high school graduation. Our current method of registration has outlived its usefulness. A combination of online registration and automatic registration with opt-out makes much more sense.
Lindsay Bouffard is a third-year law student at William & Mary.