Happy Primary Election Day, Buckeye State voters. This is perhaps as good a time as any to reflect on our ability to exercise the franchise.
For some, it isn’t so easy, and those of us who believe in democracy know that we must continue to strive to eliminate barriers to the ballot box. One would think, in 2015, online voter registration would be a simple enough step to encourage and facilitate voter participation.
Apparently, one would be wrong.
In Ohio, the idea of online registration has been tossed about for years, but the American Civil Liberties Union recently released a report showing that Ohio has some way to go.
The report is called, “Access Denied: Barriers to Online Voter Registration for Citizens with Disabilities.”
The report analyzes six states, including Ohio, and finds, distressingly, that only one of the six passes muster when it comes to accessibility for those with disabilities, and that’s California.
Ohio’s limited registration site failed seven out of nine accessibility categories, according to the report.
Ohio failed in numerous categories: Forms, screen reader access, semantic organization, skip navigation, alt text, keyboard access, and text size and scaling. Ohio’s two passing categories? Color contrast and tab order.
The report notes that the Ohio Secretary of State’s website is “extremely cluttered,” and having had to navigate the thing for dozens of election cycles myself, I can assure you that’s a bit of an understatement.
“Our state government must demolish the barriers to vote for people with disabilities by modernizing Ohio’s voter registration system,” the ACLU Ohio tells us on the website for their new campaign, “Online for All.”
Why? Online registration saves money, they say.
“The Ohio Secretary of State estimates costs savings for county boards of elections between 50 cents and $1 per registration. If Ohio had online voter registration between 2010 and 2012, county boards of elections collectively would have seen a $1.5 million to $3 million in savings over those two years in which they registered approximately 3 million paper registration forms.”
Online registration reduces errors.
“Voters enter their own information rather than relying on election officials to decipher illegible handwriting and incomplete information.”
And, online registration bolsters election integrity.
“Automatic cross-checking with other state databases ensures that online voter registration is more secure than the current paper-based system.”
The site notes that multiple bills have been introduced in Ohio to create full online registration.
“Currently, similar bills in the 131st Ohio General Assembly, Senate Bill 63 and House Bill 41, would create such a system. One important difference between these bills: Only House Bill 41 would allow for all forms of identification.”
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has given his support to online registration in the past, and his opponent this past November, Nina Turner, now with the Ohio Democratic Party, made election reforms such as online registration a central theme in her campaign.
Honestly, to me, this is common sense stuff. All Ohioans show have simple, accessibly, and easily understandable access to voter registration online, and this becomes even more important for people with disabilities.
There is a term for those of us not currently dealing with a disability. The term is “tab,” and means “temporarily able-bodied,” emphasis on the temporary. The term is meant to serve as a reminder that many of us will go on to face disabilities ourselves due to age or circumstance.
Online voter registration is supported across the political spectrum and is a bit of a no-brainer. I’m glad the ACLU is making this push for Ohio to step into the 21st Century, advance its website, and expand online voter registration. It’s time to get this done.
David DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure based out of Athens, Ohio. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He can be found on Twitter @TheRevDeWitt.