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Sweeney seeks answers for College Voters after discovery of major problem with Secretary of State's registration system

September 28, 2020
Democrat Newsroom

COLUMBUS— State Representative Bride Rose Sweeney (D - Cleveland) announced the discovery of a major flaw in the Secretary of State’s Online Voter Registration system. News reports last week of Ohio college students facing obstacles led her to examine the site. Student addresses are being rejected and the website misleads students into believing they’ve registered to vote when they click “Submit Voter Registration” when, in fact, they often must submit a paper form.

Rep. Sweeney sent a letter to Secretary of State Frank LaRose today seeking immediate action and addressing other inaccuracies on the Secretary’s website that could mislead college students about their clear right to vote in their campus communities and how to do so.  

“There is one week left to register to vote in the November 3rd election and, with new problems being exposed, every Ohio college student should double-check their voter registration. Our country’s election systems are built without the needs of college students in mind. It is by design and it is shameful.

When Ohio passed the law to create online voter registration, Democrats warned that the bill, sponsored by then-Senator LaRose, would be a major problem for college students. People are being turned away because our online system is stricter than our paper voter registration system. That’s backwards.”

Online voter registration was first proposed and passed by House Democrats in 2009. It did not become law until 2017 with LaRose-sponsored SB 63. Democrats’ amendments to remove the requirement of two forms of ID were rejected amid Democratic warnings that Ohioans would have problems with the system.

See the letter below:

Dear Secretary LaRose,

With one week left before voter registration closes, Ohio’s college students need answers now. Two recent news reports have exposed problems that Ohio college students are having with your online voter registration website. All of the students at my alma mater, John Carroll University, are learning remotely and have questions about how to register and vote. Your website urgently needs to be updated to provide better, accurate information.

The news reports indicated that your system may not be accepting college addresses, like dorms. In my own attempts to use the system, I was alarmed to find that if I entered any information that does not match my driver’s license, I should have been directed to a paper registration form, but instead I was allowed to complete the online process and directed to click the “Submit Voter Registration” button. These kinds of instructions would clearly make someone think they’ve submitted their registration. How many people clicked the “Submit Voter Registration” button believing they were completing their registration and then did not send in a paper form because of the confusion? This must be fixed immediately.

Your online voter registration system does not make clear to potential voters that they can register even if they do not have a driver’s license. The website is confusing in its offering of the paper registration form to individuals. Anyone can register with a paper form but the site says to use the paper form for updates only. This needs to be very clear and the website needs to be cleaned up now.

Your website also discourages college students from voting in their campus community and does not provide any clarity to them about registering in their college community and voting in their college community. It contains no helpful information for college students who might be dealing with unprecedented COVID-19 protocols and restrictions that require them to do remote learning and may be causing them to be temporarily away from their campus community. Students do not lose their Ohio residence when they are temporarily away. But your website does not provide any help to these students as they try to navigate registering and voting.

Your website also leads people to believe that there is one voter ID requirement for all methods of voting. It needs to inform people that they can vote early in person by simply using an ID number like the last four digits of their Social Security number.

College students are unique voters because they are new to the process and most students move at least once per year and often twice per year. Add to that the particular circumstances of 2020 where many college students are temporarily away from their campus residence as they stay with parents, friends, or other family because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Mr. Secretary, non-partisan groups asked you to improve your website months ago. Now we are one week away from the close of voter registration and you are presenting inaccurate information to hundreds of thousands of Ohio students. Please update your online voter registration webpage immediately and expand your College Voting webpage with clear, helpful, accurate information. And please make sure every county Board of Elections is also providing accurate information. We need to make voting easy and convenient for voters and that includes our college students who are new to this.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

Bride Rose Sweeney

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