A Republican-backed voting bill in Ohio could contribute to longer lines at the polls and make it easier to purge voters from the rolls. State lawmakers passed the legislation Wednesday – and there’s likely much worse to come. The bill itself has voting-rights advocates concerned enough. But it’s almost certain to be just the first step in a broad assault on access to the ballot box expected in the coming weeks from Republicans in Ohio, a pivotal state in presidential elections. The measure cleared the Ohio House of Representatives by a 60-33 vote Wednesday, with just two Democrats in support. It has already been approved by the Senate and now heads to the desk of Republican Gov. John Kasich, who is expected to sign it. Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Kasich, said Thursday morning that the governor is studying the bill and will announce a decision shortly.
Two key aspects of the bill could restrict voting in the Buckeye State. First, it makes it easier for Secretary of State Jon Husted to cross-reference Ohio’s voter-registration database with other databases—both within the state and outside it—in order to flag errors, like voters who are deceased or non-citizens, or voters who are registered in multiple states. Voting-rights advocates fear that could allow for flawed purges of voter rolls similar to those conducted recently in Florida, Colorado, and Virginia.
Here’s one way that could happen: The bill could smooth the way for Husted to have Ohio join an effort launched by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a former GOP operative and an advocate of restrictive voting laws. Kobach’s project, known as the Kansas Compact, coordinates data from a number of states in order to find voters who are registered in multiple places. The process uses only a voter’s first and last names and his date of birth—a method that, as election law experts have pointed out, is likely to generate a large number of false positives when used on a large scale. Virginia used the system this fall to wrongly purge some voters from the rolls, leading a handful of local election officials to refuse to go along.
“It’s not really clear that the data coming out of that process is really good,” Keesha Gaskins, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, said of Kobach’s initiative. The system, she said, “appears to be more of a purge mechanism.”