Voting Rights Advocates Want Consent Decree To Remain

Jul 16, 2013

Attorneys representing homeless Ohioans and others who have traditionally encountered identification problems while voting are asking a federal court to keep a ruling on the books for future elections.

 But as Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, the state says there’s no need for it.

Ohio lawmakers had once considered a bill that would require Ohioans to have a valid driver’s license or state issued photo id to vote.  But that plan didn’t go anywhere, in part because advocates for the poor insisted their clients don’t have that kind of id and forcing them to get it just to vote would amount to a poll tax.  There are several forms of identification that can be used.  And Subodh Chandra, a Cleveland attorney, wants to keep it that way.  He’s asking a federal court to extend a previous court order that’s about to expire.

Chandra - The problem we had in Ohio before the consent decree was adopted was that far too many of our 88 boards of elections were confused about the voter id statute and were applying completely different rules across the state.  So, for example, some might honor a letter from a public university for a college student that explains who they are while others would not.  Some would honor the votes of people who use their social security numbers.  Others would not necessarily count that vote.  That was a problem because it created an equal protection problem across Ohio.

Chandra fears without the consent decree in place, low income voters in the future will find their vote won’t count.  But Matt McClellan with Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office says there’s no need to worry.

McClellan – The law already does what the consent decree would do and it’s outdated.  So to try to keep it in place, you are just going to have this unnecessary duplication of efforts when the law is clear that if the person does not have one of the accepted forms of identification, they can use the last four digits of their social security number to cast a ballot.

McClellan says the state is fighting the challenge to keep the consent decree in place.  The federal judge is expected to make a decision within the next couple of weeks.