2008 & 2009 Ohio Elections Summit and Conference

April 8, 2009

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Executive Summary

Complete Appendices
Next Steps to Reform
Framework for Reform: Priority Issues
Selected related documents

From the executive report, download document for citations.

This final report on the 2008 and 2009 Ohio Election Summit and Conference (the “Summits”) was drafted at the request of Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, and follows a “preliminary report” originally published on March 9, 2009. It is the product of two historic summits called by Secretary of State Brunner to review the 2008 election and to study ways to improve Ohio’s elections going forward. The Summits were open to the public and focused on a wide variety of election related topics. Discussions were led by election officials, voting rights advocates, academics, and legislators.

The primary purpose of this report is to assist Secretary Brunner, the State Legislature, election officials, voting rights groups, and other Ohio citizens with framing issues and topics for election reform agendas in 2009. More generally, we hope the report will be a useful tool to anyone in Ohio—or elsewhere—who is interested in crafting a consensus-based elections policy that springs from systematic factual analysis and takes into account many different perspectives on voting and elections.

The sources for the information and ideas in the report include statements offered during the Summits; written testimony provided in advance of each of the Summits; post-summit interviews conducted by Brennan Center staff with election officials, other Ohio public officials, voting rights advocates, members of the media, and Ohio voters who participated in the Summits; and figures and analyses supplied in response to requests made by the Brennan Center to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, the Early Voting Information Center, the Pew Center on the States, and Professors Edward Foley, Paul Gronke, Candice Hoke, David Kimball, Quin Monson, Norman Robbins, and Daniel Tokaji, among others.


Next Steps to Reform

There are many ideas for election policy reform in this document. Given that these ideas come from such a diverse set of participants, it should surprise no one that they sometimes contradict one another. Just as there has been no shortage of disagreement in Ohio when it comes to election policy, there was also no shortage of disagreement on this subject at the Summits, and in our post-summit interviews with summit participants and election experts.

Without papering over these differences, we have been somewhat surprised at the level of agreement on a number of topics, from the general to the specific. On a general level, as already discussed in the preliminary report, participants embraced at least four themes for future policy development: decisions about election policy and practice should be based on systematic data analysis, including analysis of the cost and funding of such decisions; development of policy must include consideration of its impact on the real world of election administration; all election policies should aim to ensure that every vote cast by a qualified voter is counted; and all policies should implicitly or explicitly recognize that election officials, including poll workers, take seriously their duty to make sure that all eligible voters—and only eligible voters—are allowed to vote. Election officials added, and voting rights groups did not disagree, that regardless of policy changes made in the coming year, there should also be greater public education about what voters should do—from confirming their correct polling locations, to reviewing their ballots and paper trails before casting their votes—to ensure that their votes were correctly counted.

Keeping these themes in mind, there was also a fair amount of agreement on the need for specific reforms, including what a majority of participants identified as high priorities for election reform in the next year. For the purpose of facilitating the next steps in developing a reform agenda, we offer the following “framework” which aims to distill and organize the different points of view on specific policies, and to assist all stakeholders by (1) prioritizing issues based on the need for reform, as stated by the election officials, advocates and academics we interviewed; (2) pointing to places of agreement among election officials and advocacy groups for addressing those issues (as well as places where agreement has not yet been reached); and (3) identifying research that would help develop a reform agenda for these issues.


Framework for Reform: Priority Issues

The Summits covered a wide range of issues, from ballot access for minor parties to campaign finance enforcement to voting technology. Based on our post-summit interviews, there was broad (though not complete) agreement that while all of the issues covered at the Summits were important, some cried out for immediate action. Among those were, first:

  • early voting timeframe and procedures;
  • the Statewide Voter Registration Database;
  • provisional voting and voter ID laws; and
  • poll worker recruitment and training;

and second:

  • post-election audits

By providing this context, we do not presume to suggest that action should not be taken on other matters discussed at the conference, or, for that matter, that the reform agenda should be limited to the topics discussed there. In fact, a number of interviewees suggested that the there were several issues that were at least as important to election policy reform as any covered in the Summits. These interviewees suggested a number of changes, including: redistricting reform, reforming state oversight of elections administration, clarifying the rules on challenges to voters’ eligibility, and streamlining election litigation.

However, because so many interviewees discussed the importance of the five broad topics covered below, we undertook to produce an organized framework distilling those discussions—noting consensus or the promise of consensus where it seems to exist. At the end of this section, we add two more ideas—(1) amending laws related to design and language requirements for ballots, registration forms, and provisional and absentee ballot envelopes and applications, and (2) reviewing the state’s back-up paper ballot policy—that appear to have widespread support, but do not fit neatly into the discussion of any one of these five priority issues.

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Selected Documents

Documents

Ohio Association of Election Officials Endorses Report, (4/7/09)

Press

Editorial: A vote of confidence, Columbus Dispatch, (3/19/09)
Report: Ohio Must Update Voter Lists, Columbus Dispatch (4/8/09)
Report finds consensus for changes to election law, HFR, OH, AP (4/8/08)
Election reform needs support, Ironton Tribune (4/9/09)
Editorial: Sound reforms, Columbus Dispatch (4/12/09)
Ohio must fix voting problems, Beacon Tribune (4/12/09)
Ohio still improving elections process, (Sec. Brunner Editorial) Ironton Tribunem (4/30/09)