Buckeye State Once Again in Eye of Political Storm

By Sarah Larkins | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Already the source of much Democratic anger over the balloting in the last presidential election, Ohio's new voting regulations are firing up liberal activists all over again.

Among the new rules put forth by Ohio's Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is a provision that requires anyone registering to vote to return their registration cards directly to the secretary of state's office or county election boards within 10 days of being completed..

Many organizations use paid or volunteer registrars to collect voter registration cards. The workers take the cards back to their supervisors, who review the cards for errors.

Samuel Gresham, an attorney for Common Cause, one of the organizations protesting the new regulations, also complained that people who use photo identification will have to show a correct, corresponding address on the ID and that anyone compensated for registering people to vote must first receive online certification from the secretary of state.

"How many more things do you need to impede the process of people and their legal right to vote?" Gresham said.

Both the legislation and Blackwell's interpretation of it are going to make it difficult for the public to register and exercise their right to vote, Gresham said. "There's going to be one group disproportionately affected, and that's the poor and people of color, because they count on third-party registrars to get them into the election process," he told Cybercast News Service.

Thor Hearne, national counsel to the American Center for Voting Rights, disagreed, saying that the new rules would ensure that voters are not disenfranchised and that elections are fair and honest.

The system as currently structured encourages voting registration fraud, he said.

"When somebody shows up in the election official's office with a bag of fraudulent voter registration forms on the eve of the election, that has the effect of gumming up the system, preventing legitimate voters from being registered and causing illegal voters, or illegal names, to be put on the voter poll," Hearne told Cybercast News Service. "That decreases the public confidence in the election process.

"[This] is exactly the kind of abuse that these rules by Ken Blackwell seek to prevent," he added. "They just simply wish to appear to restore accountability to the election system."

Peg Rosenfield, elections specialist for the liberal League of Women Voters of Ohio, said she does not "understand how making it difficult or impossible for people to take the registrations that they've collected to their organizations to be checked for accuracy is encouraging fraud."

"I think it would discourage fraud," Rosenfield told Cybercast News Service. "They talk about these fraudulent registrations. They were collecting money fraudulently ... They got paid a buck for signing up Mary Poppins. It isn't fraudulent registration to influence an election. [That is] a phony argument."

The new rules come months before Blackwell is due to face Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland in the Ohio governor's race, prompting some to accuse Blackwell of using the changes to suppress Democratic voter turnout.

"It appears that Ken Blackwell finally figured out how to deal with long lines on Election Day," state Democratic Party spokesman Brian Rothenberg said. "He's just trying to outright deny people the right to vote now."

Blackwell's campaign spokesperson Carlo LoParo said such claims were "outrageous."

"The Blackwell campaign is making a very focused effort to gain the votes of Ohio's urban voters, particularly Ohio's African-American voters, and that's because Ken Blackwell is the only candidate in this race that can articulate their concerns," LoParo said.

State Rep. Kevin DeWine, who sponsored the election-reform law, said he believes Blackwell's office drafted the rules to comply with the bill, but that the law might need to be fixed. Lawmakers did not intend to subject registrars to criminal penalties if they did not turn in forms directly to the secretary of state, he said.

Some groups such as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now are cutting back voter-registration efforts while the rules are reviewed. Representatives from Common Cause and the League of Women Voters of Ohio indicate that they are open to compromise on the issue.

"Since the sponsor of the bill has said that some of these interpretations are not what they intended, we would like to go in and quickly pass the corrections bill so that it will make it clear that these rules were not what they intended," Rosenfield said.

Gresham added that "we want to engage in the process of putting ideas on the table on how we can improve this bill."

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