Here’s the bottom line to the seeming never-ending fuss over Ohio’s voting laws: Democrats like looser voting restrictions because that generally means more Democratic votes. Republicans are just the opposite. That’s not to say each side doesn’t have honest concerns about issues ranging from voter fraud to access to the ballot box. But the shape of partisan battle lines over proposed changes to voting laws is one of the easiest to predict, both in Ohio and nationwide. What that means for voters is an ever-shifting set of rules as lawmakers enact changes followed by inevitable legal challenges, resulting in months of uncertainty that sometimes is not resolved until shortly before the election. For example: The GOP-run legislature and Republican Gov. John Kasich passed legislation to ban the so-called Golden Week, a period of five days before Election Day during which Ohioans could register to vote and cast an early ballot at the same time. A lower federal court threw out the change. An appeals court panel restored it. Now that decision has been appealed.
State legislators stipulated that poll-goers who need a provisional ballot — required if there’s some doubt about your eligibility to vote — must fill out a form with basic demographic information. But that law is applied with varying degrees of rigidity across the state. Some counties allow your vote even if you mistakenly print your name instead of signing it in the space for a signature, while others throw out the entire ballot. A federal court has deemed that unconstitutional. And, yes, that ruling is under appeal.
Despite the election-year ritual of voting battles in a key presidential bellwether state, both experts and the data paint a relatively nuanced picture of their effect on the electorate.