By Tim Cox
Ohio voters will have to show proper photo identification before casting ballots in the May 2 primary election, the result of a recent elections reform bill signed into law by Gov. Bob Taft.
The ramifications of the new law remain unknown and local elections officials are awaiting directives from Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell on how to enforce the new rules. In addition to the requirement for voters to show ID before voting, the law also makes other changes, including a general strengthening of the voter registration process.
Mercer County Board of Elections Director Denise Fullenkamp said she remains uncertain how the new law will affect Election Day locally. It will be up to board members to decide whether additional staffing will be necessary after they learn their new responsibilities from Blackwell's office, Fullenkamp said. With each voter required to show ID, it could lead to longer lines at the polls and the need for more precinct workers.
Mercer County now uses about 170 precinct workers for each election.
The law now requires every voter to show a "proper photo identification" before voting. That is defined as an ID card issued by Ohio or the U.S. government that is not expired and shows the person's name and address, which must match information on file with the local elections office. People who refuse to show ID can cast a provisional ballot by giving the last four digits of their Social Security number. Voters who refuse that method, or who have no ID or Social Security number, still can cast a provisional ballot but the eligibility of their registration and ballot are scrutinized more closely.
The same photo ID standards will apply to people who register to vote, which represents a tougher standard than existing policies. Currently, the Mercer County board of elections will accept a driver's license or state ID card as valid identification, as well as a utilities bill or government check that contain the necessary information, Fullenkamp said.
Ohio becomes the 23rd state to force voters to identify themselves before casting their votes. However, the laws in three of those states are facing court challenges.
According to the electiononline.org, a non-partisan election reform group, every Democrat in the Ohio Legislature voted against the bill as it made its way through the House and Senate. Democratic opponents of the law argue the ID requirements would make voting harder for the poor, elderly and minorities.