State Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) hosted national and Ohio election experts today for a discussion of “The National Voter Registration Act in the Buckeye State: What Ohio is Doing Wrong.” The discussion highlighted multiple problems in Ohio’s compliance with the NVRA.
“Today, we heard from many national voter registration experts that Ohio has major problems with its compliance with the National Voter Registration Act. There are concrete things we can do here to improve registration and participation in elections as the federal law requires. These include registering more voters at the BMV, offering voter registration to online customers at the BMV and other agencies and stopping the massive purges of voters for not voting. The diversity of our electorate and the soundness of Ohio’s democracy depend on our compliance with this federal law,” said Rep. Clyde following the panel discussions.
The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), also known as the Motor Voter Act, became law 20 years ago. Congress passed the law with the objectives of increasing the number of citizens registered to vote, ensuring the maintenance of accurate voter rolls and encouraging the participation of eligible voters in the electoral process. Unfortunately, Ohio’s implementation of the NVRA leaves the promises of the law unfulfilled.
Rep. Clyde and Senator Nina Turner were joined by election experts from academia, legal practice and advocacy groups. The first panel, moderated by Sen. Turner, discussed the problem of low rates of registration at BMVs. In comparison with other similarly sized states, Ohio is lagging far behind in the number of people registered to vote at our BMVs.
“Accessible voter registration is essential to protecting the right to vote. Unfortunately, barriers to voter registration remain. We must make sure that federal voting rights are protected, so that every citizen has a voice in Ohio’s democracy,” said Dan Tokaji, professor law at The Ohio State University and speaker on the first panel of the event.
The second panel highlighted the practice of excessive purging of voters from the registration rolls. While the NVRA requires states to maintain accurate voter rolls, the purging activity in Ohio has gone beyond the mandate of the law and subverts the major purpose of the NVRA which is to increase the voter registration rolls and election participation.
The final panel turned to the issue of agency-based voter registration. Voters may register at public assistance and other agencies under the NVRA. The Department of Jobs and Family Services (DJFS) settled a lawsuit brought in 2006 – originally against Secretary of State Ken Blackwell – that led to vastly improved registration numbers at public assistance agencies. However, the rate of registration at DJFS offices has dropped significantly since the expiration of the settlement agreement.
The overview, facts and discussion from today’s event will be compiled into a forthcoming report on the state of the NVRA in Ohio.