HB 159 disenfranchises votersWritten by Guest Author | | GuestAuthor@toledofreepress.com
Voting is a fundamental right and the lifeblood of our very Democracy. The Ohio General Assembly has been actively engaged in various election reforms. But one of the proposals being debated threatens our democratic way of life. I am speaking about House Bill 159. Should this bill become law, I believe it threatens to disenfranchise seniors, minorities and the poor from the right to vote.
This bill was passed by the House on March 23 and is currently awaiting a hearing in the State & Local Government and Veterans Affairs Committee of the Senate. According to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, the bill would require a person who appears to vote on the day of an election to provide photo identification such as an Ohio’s driver’s license, Ohio identification card, military identification card or valid passport. Current law allows voters to vote without photo ID if they can provide a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document that shows the elector’s name and address. Under the version of the bill passed by the House, voters may still use these alternative forms of identification to request an absentee ballot.
The problem with requiring a government ID to vote is that this change will disproportionately affect seniors, minorities and the poor. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, “as many as 11 percent of United States citizens — more than 21 million individuals — do not have government-issued photo identification.” The Brennan Center study showed that among those eligible to vote, 18 percent of Seniors (over the age of 65) do not have current government-issued photo ID, 25 percent African-Americans have no current government-issued photo ID and 15 percent of citizens earning less than $35,000 have no current government-issued photo ID. Furthermore, the study showed that photo identification often does not reflect current information.
The main justification for this proposed law is the fear of voter fraud. But voter fraud is a felony in Ohio punishable for up to six years after the crime was committed. On the other hand, there is no remedy for denying a person the right to vote. If people are denied the opportunity to participate in an election, they have forever lost their voice in deciding the election. Every American should be afforded the opportunity to participate in the Democratic process.
I am also encouraging anyone (and especially the citizens of District 1) who may be at risk at being disenfranchised should this bill become law to update their registration with the board of elections and request an absentee ballot. Voters can vote absentee for any reason in Ohio. Voting absentee is one way to make sure that your vote counts.
My campaign for City Council distributed voter registration forms and applications for absentee voter ballots in District 1 on June 4. If you have moved recently, it is important that you update your address with the Board of Elections. My campaign volunteers will be happy to help register people to vote and turn in their completed registration and absentee ballot requests to the board of elections. If you do not have a government ID, I am encouraging would-be voters to bring a copy of a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or government check showing their name and current address. Even if HB 159 passes, these alternative forms of identification will still allow a person to vote absentee.
No one should be denied the right to vote simply because they do not have a driver’s license or state ID. As an aspiring member of Toledo City Council, I pledge to always do the best I can to fight for your rights.
I encourage everyone to protect the right to vote by ensuring that your registration information with the Board of Elections is accurate and to request an absentee ballot. If you have any specific questions about voting requirements, call the Lucas County Board of Elections at (419) 213-4001.
Brandon Tucker is a candidate for Toledo City Council District 1.