Ohio VR Laws Raise Questions

The New York Times has an article that is about two things–voter registration rules and election governance. The Times reports:

In the last year, six states have passed [voter registration] restrictions, and in three states, including Ohio, civic groups have filed lawsuits, arguing that the rules disproportionately affect poor neighborhoods.

But nowhere have the rules been as fiercely debated as here, partly because they are being administered by J. Kenneth Blackwell, the secretary of state and the Republican candidate in one of the most closely watched governor’s races in the country, a contest that will be affected by the voter registration rules. Mr. Blackwell did not write the law, but he has been accused of imposing regulations that are more restrictive than was intended.

Under the law, passed by the Republican-led state legislature in January 2006, paid voter registration workers must personally submit the voter registration cards to the state, rather than allow the organizations overseeing the drives to vet and submit them in bulk.

By requiring paid canvassers to sign and put their addresses on the voter registration cards they collect, and by making them criminally liable for any irregularities on the cards, the rules have made it more difficult to use such workers, who most often work in lower-income and Democratic-leaning neighborhoods, where volunteers are scarce.

The problem, of course, is that the elected Secretary of State, who runs elections, is running for governor and this seems as though he is creating rules surrounding the law and its enforcement that are biased to his benefit.

Mike and I have written a paper on election governance with Morgan Llewellyn, a graduate student at Caltech. From the national survey we have conducted, we find that the public supports having an elected election representative, but would prefer they be nonpartisan and that the election be run not by a single person but by a board.

These ideas for requiring individuals to be responsible for registration forms cuts both ways. In 2004, there were allegations in several states of Republican operatives not filing registration forms when registrants were Democrats. However, creating barriers to registration obviously is problematic, as the Ohio case shows. The question is, how do you create a sense of responsibility among those who register voters without creating disincentive to register people?