A late-breaking controversy has emerged over provisional voting in Ohio. It concerns the official form used to indicate whether or not the provisional voter has shown the poll worker a valid identification. The form contains a space for the provisional voter to write down the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security Number (SSN), if that is the form of ID the voter wishes to use. Alternatively, the voter may write down his or her Ohio driver’s license number (DLN), and the form provides a separate space for that. Beyond those two methods of identification, the form also contains several boxes the provisional voter may select depending upon which other type of identification the voter presents. There is a box for “military identification card”; one for current utility bill, bank statement, or other similarly acceptable document; and another for a government-issued photo ID. Finally, there is also a box for a voter who does not possess any of the permissible types of ID and who fills out a separate form swearing so.
The controversy concerns what happens, when it comes time to determine the eligibility of a provisional ballot, if none of these boxes are checked—and the SSN or DLN spaces are also blank—and the provisional voter has failed to submit a valid type of ID by November 16. The form itself warns the voter, albeit in somewhat smaller print: “If you do not check one of the following boxes . . . the board of elections will conclude that you did NOT show ID to your [poll worker] and you must show ID at the board of elections during the 10 days after the election for your vote to be eligible to be counted.” The form also declares sideways, at its left-hand edge, in larger bold type: “MANDATORY INFORMATION REQUIRED FOR YOUR BALLOT TO COUNT.”
In addition to the language of the form itself, the Secretary of State has given the local boards of election a directive on what to do when evaluating the eligibility of provisional ballots. This directive was released just this past Friday, November 2—a reflection of the fact that the rules for counting provisional ballots in Ohio have been the subject of ongoing federal-court litigation for months (indeed years), and that one aspect of this litigation was resolved only last Wednesday, October 31, in a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.