MEDINA – A proposal to allow Ohioans to register to vote online is gaining support around the state, but so far hasn’t been accepted at the Ohio Statehouse.
“Online registration is an important election reform supported by Democrats and Republicans across the nation,” Secretary of State Jon Husted said in a statement. “It is time for Ohio to get it done.”
In an effort to rally support for the proposal, Husted sent his deputy Josette Burns to Medina last week to ask county commissioners to consider endorsing the proposal.
Like many state legislators, however, Medina County commissioners have some reservations about people registering to vote online. Commissioners Adam Friedrick and Tim Smith both expressed concerns about a potential increase in fraud being perpetrated by people registering to vote online.
Friedrick also has another reason for not immediately embracing the proposal.
“I think voting is a privilege that people should make more of an effort to exercise,” he said. “That’s why I think we should make it hard for people to vote, not easy.”
County Commissioner Pat Geissman disagreed.
“I think we need to encourage more people to vote and make it easier for them to do so, not harder,” she said.
About 123,000 people are already registered to vote in Medina County. but only 8 percent or them bothered to cast a ballot in the May 5 primary election.
Friedrick said commissioners are likely to have more discussions on the matter before they consider drafting a letter to state legislators asking them to pass one of the bills that have been introduced in the Statehouse that would provide for online voter registration.
A spokesman for Husted’s office said county commissioners in 20 other counties have already written to legislators asking them to adopt online voter registration.
Supporters of the proposal claim that it is more secure and accurate than registering in person and actually reduces the potential for fraud. In addition, online registration streamlines the process, eliminating a lot of time spent by board of election officials in processing and filing paper registration forms.
“It (online registration) could be helpful in election years when we get a lot of new voters,” said Carol Lawler, director of the Medina County Board of Elections. “We often have to hire extra staff to process all the registrations prior to a presidential election.”
Husted estimates that online registrations can cut costs between 50 cents and $1 per registration. That would have saved the county and Board of Elections up to $68,000 in processing costs for the 68,141 people who registered to vote here between 2011 and 2014.
State Sen. Frank LaRose introduced a bill earlier this year which would require the secretary of state to set up online voter registration as an option to filling out paper forms.
“Online voter registration will improve the accuracy of our voter records, reduce the potential for fraud and protect voter privacy, all while reducing costs to the taxpayer,” LaRose said in a statement. “Most importantly, online registration will be more convenient for Ohio’s citizens, thus increasing citizens’ access to the ballot box, which is a victory for good government and a victory for democracy.”
Online voter registration is also endorsed by the bipartisan Ohio Association of Elections Officials.
Twenty-four other states have passed online voter registration laws. Arizona reduced per-registration costs from 83 cents for a paper registration to 3 cents per online registration, according to a 2010 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
To register online, people would have to meet the same criteria as if registering on paper: that they be U.S. citizens, have resided in Ohio for at least 30 days before the next election and not otherwise be ineligible to vote.