None of the following is to be construed as legal advice. If the reader has a legal question, he or she should seek the assistance of any attorney immediately.
Ohio House Bill 159 (HB 159) was introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives on March 15, 2011, alongside Governor Kasich’s long awaited state budget. In essence, HB 159 seeks to create more stringent identification requirements for otherwise qualified voters in Ohio. If passed into law, the bill would require voters to produce some form of government-issued identification at the polls prior to being allowed to vote.
The current state of the law requires that voters bring some verification of address to the polls – whether that is some form of state, school or work issued identification, a utility bill, or a recently received piece of correspondence. At this point, the law is not so specific as to require a single form of identification.
I find HB 159 to be especially disconcerting for a host of reasons, the most important of which is the impact that it could have on our otherwise qualified voting elderly, low income and student populations. The very underlying premise of democracy is based upon a citizen’s ability to participate in the selection of representatives, the passage and repeal of statutes, and the general movement of government in his or her daily life. Idealistic as that may sound in light of our especially low historical voter turnout rate, the transparency and availability of the voting process is at the root of American democracy. This basic ideal may be traced as far back to the rallying cry of the colonists during the early days of the Revolution: “No taxation without representation!” Within that very phrase, our forefathers were demanding access and input into the law-making and government process that affected their daily lives.
Through time that right to vote – the right to equal participation in the election process – has evolved to include women, children over the age of eighteen, and those minorities who were likewise historically excluded from the process. Through the litigation of the “one man, one vote” series of cases, the United States Supreme Court ensured that each individual’s vote in an election carried the same weight as any other individual’s vote across the entire country. Most notably the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed such barriers to the ballot as the poll tax and certain literacy tests that were implemented arbitrarily in some states to continue the disenfranchisement of otherwise qualified voters.
Ultimately, we as citizens ask our legislators to use the law-making process to fix problems in society and in our daily lives – to right wrongs – to protect us from harm – and to secure for each of us those “certain inalienable rights” with which we are endowed as a result of being human beings and American citizens. In my own research on this topic I have not come across any reliable data that would suggest that Ohio has a problem with voter fraud. Nor has there been any argument that stricter voter identification laws are necessary to secure “one man, one vote.” Rather HB 159 seems to do no more than making voting more difficult in a time where we should want to make voting simpler to combat those low turnout rates.
To get a better understanding of the ramifications of this proposed legislation, I spoke with Carrie Davis, Ohio ACLU Legal Counsel. She stated that HB 159 would have the strongest impact on those without a government-issued identification and would make Ohio the strictest state in the country in terms of voting requirements. The ACLU’s research indicates that it would impact mostly the elderly, low-income individuals and families, and students. In the last analysis, Attorney Davis stated that HB 159 “would have the effect of disenfranchising otherwise qualified voters… it no longer becomes a question of whether someone is a valid voter, but whether he or she has the appropriate government-issued identification.”
For example, based upon my reading of HB 159, if an elderly citizen, who is otherwise qualified to vote would lose his driver’s license as a result of a medical condition, and either (1) couldn’t afford another government-issued identification card, (2) did not qualify for a free government-issued identification, or (3) simply did not feel it was necessary anymore to carry such identification, he would no longer be eligible to vote in an election in Ohio because he would no longer have the appropriate identification.
As an attorney, I am opposed to HB 159. I believe that it creates an unnecessary barrier to the ballot in the state of Ohio. I would highly suggest that the reader conduct his or her own independent research on the subject. A great place to start is with the proposed bill, itself, which can be found at the following website. The bill has passed through the House of Representatives and currently sits in the Ohio Senate for discussion and debate.
When it comes to voting, we as a nation cannot afford to take a step back in time. Our right to vote is first and foremost, and lies at the very heart of our rights as American citizens. I think it is as true today as it was when it was written and applies equally to the task of our legislators to act without regard to partisanship: “Waste not a day in vain digression: / With resolute, courageous trust/ Seize every possible impression/ And make it firmly your possession . . .” Faust, von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang)