Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Some Ohio Registered Voters Won’t Receive an Invitation to Vote Absentee

In an online ad, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted holds up a letter with his name in large print and the promise, “Your absentee ballot request form is in the mail.”

But for 1 in 7 registered voters in Ohio, this is not true.

Husted, a Republican in his second term as the State Elections Chief, has decided not to send Absentee ballot applications to 1,032,775 registered voters who, reportedly, did not vote in the 2012 or 2014 Federal elections, although many have voted in off-year elections, or who are thought to have moved.

Some, a Beacon Journal investigation has found, have voted as recently as March and have not, in fact, moved. This includes some of the 36,822 Summit County voters who aren’t getting the Absentee ballot applications this year.

Early voting begins Oct. 12. The practice reduces lines on Election Day. Most argue that it boosts turnout. And, without a doubt, it has been popular in Ohio.

In 2012, 1.8 million voters, or a third who participated, voted early by mailing or handing in their ballots to a County Board of Elections in the five weeks before the November election.

This year with the elimination of “Golden Week,” which allowed voters to register and cast ballots all at once, the Early Voting period has been reduced to four weeks.

Democrats consider the selective process of sending out Absentee ballot requests and the trimming of the early voting period as an attack on the Constitutional Rights of their constituents, especially low-income residents who lack reliable transportation and benefit from convenient early voting options. Republicans, however, say early voting is still more robust in Ohio than most states.

To determine which registered voters should not receive Absentee ballot applications, Husted’s office asks County Boards of Elections to maintain the State’s Voter Registry. Any voter who misses two years of elections, or who has updated his or her address with the post office but not a County Board of Elections, is mailed a notice asking them to confirm their new address or whether they’d like to remain a registered voter. If they don’t respond or vote again in four more years, they’re purged from the State’s Voter Database, essentially stripping them of their right to vote until they re-register. This could be an issue for purged voters who show up at the polls but have missed the deadline to register 30 days before an election.

Most who are purged have died or moved out of state, Husted spokesman Joshua Eck said.

But some critics of the purging practice say voters end up being arbitrarily removed simply for exercising their right to pick elections that interest them. “I’m concerned about people being excluded from parts of the election process,” said State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Kent Democrat and former employee of a previous Secretary of State.

Clyde has long criticized Husted and Republicans for attempts to trim Early Voting and, more recently, for purging 2 million registered voters over the last six years. The selective process of sending out Absentee ballot applications, Clyde said, is the latest example of denying Ohioans their Constitutional right. “It’s disingenuous to say you’re sending something to all registered voters when you’re leaving out hundreds of thousands of voters,” she said.

To get the Absentee ballot applications, which can be downloaded anytime at the Secretary of State’s website, Ohioans must be on record as participating in the 2012 or 2014 General elections.

The catch is that hundreds of thousands of voters deemed “inactive” have voted before, after or in between these two Federal elections.

In Summit County, 36,822 registered voters will not get an Absentee ballot application mailed to them. This includes 10,901 who voted in the 2008 Presidential election, 80% of whom voted Democratic in the Contested Primaries that year, and 123 who voted as recently as this March.

The Post Office notifies the Board of Elections when people file to have their mail forwarded. But it’s unclear if these mostly young voters know they must also reach out to the County Board of Elections or update their address online with the State.

Husted spokesman Eck said that, wherever these voters may now live, they can always vote provisionally, after which addresses are supposed to be automatically updated. The best course of action, Eck said, is to visit the Secretary of State’s website, where voters can update their information, download and print an application to register to vote and check their polling location.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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