In the run up to the 2012 election (as in every presidential election since at least 2004), Ohio was again at the center of controversy. On early voting, provisional ballots, and more, the Ohio Secretary of State’s office took positions that we strenuously opposed because they would make it more difficult for Ohioans to cast ballots that would be counted. But this post isn’t about those controversies. It’s about an important step taken by the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office to ensure the ballots of legitimate voters were counted. It’s worth highlighting because it didn’t receive any coverage, yet it’s an important example for other states to follow.
The Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates found that many eligible, registered voters were not sent the absentee ballots they had requested because Ohio’s statewide voter-lookup system requires an exact match to verify the identities of voters. As we have previously reported, exact-match systems can lead to disenfranchisement because of spelling differences in a voter’s record in different government databases (e.g. William vs. Bill or Street vs. St.), or because of minor typographical errors, often made by election officials who have to manually enter data from thousands of paper-based registration forms. For instance, here in New York, I arrived at my polling place on Election Day to find my own last name misspelled in the poll books as “Agraharkal,” most likely because an election worker misread my handwritten voter-registration form.
The exact-match system led Ohio counties to reject applications for absentee ballots by voters wrongly identified as unregistered because of a failed match. Unfortunately, counties would be using the same lookup system after the election to verify the identities of provisional voters before their ballots could be counted. As a result, eligible provisional voters with minor errors in their registration record would have had their provisional ballots rejected.