In December, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner called together some of the country’s leading election experts and voting rights advocates, as well as a bipartisan group of state legislators and election officials, to review the 2008 election and offer suggestions for reforming the state’s election policy. She asked me to Chair this summit and to prepare a report summarizing the views of those who participated, providing relevant background and data where needed. She called this the “first step” in a process to solicit the views of Ohio voters and experts as she developed her reform agenda.
I spent the last three months working with others at the Brennan Center, interviewing dozens of officials in Ohio, and collecting data on the 2008 election. The result is this report, which should help frame what I hope is Ohio’s next step on the way to election policy reform: this Thursday and Friday, the Secretary is hosting another elections conference—again with election experts, voting rights advocates, legislators, election officials and Ohio voters — to discuss the topics and policy suggestions in my report, as well as some additional topics.
So far, this has been a great process, and one I hope other Secretaries of State will follow. Recent battles over changes to election law and practices have been motivated by partisanship, or perceived by large portions of the public to have been motivated by such concerns. This is true not just in Ohio, but many states across the nation.
All too often, election officials, voting rights advocates and academics who study elections have been left out of the decision making process when election policy changes are made. As will be obvious to anyone who reviews my report, these people come from very different perspectives and often have disagreements over policy that are as strong as any Democratic or Republican party campaign manager. But what the report also shows (I hope) is that getting feedback from these experts (and that’s what they are) puts the focus back on how potential changes will affect the voters, rather than the political parties.