Yesterday, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner released to Governor Ted Strickland and the Ohio General Assembly a "blueprint for enhancing Ohio's elections." This blueprint (click here to download) is the culmination of work that began immediately after the 2008 election, when Secretary Brunner convened the first Ohio Elections Summit, which I chaired. The bipartisan Ohio Association of Election Officials has expressed support for Secretary Brunner's proposal, and I'm hopeful that it will move the ball closer toward important improvements in Ohio election administration and law.
The December Elections Summit called by Secretary Brunner, in addition to a later conference in March, brought together voters, non-partisan and partisan election experts, election officials and state legislators, of both political parties. These events were deliberative and substantive. As I've blogged before, I would very much like to see more Secretaries of State follow Jennifer Brunner's lead and adopt similar processes in their states.
Two weeks ago, I put together a report summarizing some of the findings and recommendations that came out of the process that the Secretary initiated. In addition to voting rights groups and the Ohio Association of Election Officials, State Senator Husted—a Republican who has announced his intention to run for Secretary of State—endorsed those recommendations.
Yesterday's report by Secretary Brunner takes many of these recommendations and offers specific solutions for implementing them; she also adds some very promising ideas that came out of additional conversations she held with the Ohio election officials and county commissioners.
It's a rare day in Ohio that Secretary Brunner and Senator Husted, voting rights groups and election officials, Democrats and Republicans, agree on a broad range of changes for Ohio elections.
I do not mean to sound Pollyannaish here—certainly there is much work to be done as Ohio's leaders get to the nitty-gritty of turning these recommendations into practice. The devil is always in the details, and who knows what the legislature will be able to accomplish in the coming months.
Still, I believe the work of the last several months has laid the foundation for accomplishing important changes in Ohio. Parties that in the past have all too frequently accused each other of acting in bad faith (both implicitly and explicitly) have found substantial common ground. That is what Secretary Brunner set out to do by initiating this process, and it's no small feat in a state like Ohio. She and her staff deserve tremendous credit for the hard work that went into making it happen.
The report from Secretary Brunner is so comprehensive that it would be impossible to summarize in a blog post. I encourage people to take a look at it (click here to download). Among the more interesting proposals are the following:
- Streamline and clarify the purpose of the voter ID laws to focus on verification of identity (the current law is a hodgepodge of requirements that is confusing to voters and poll workers alike);
- Reduce the period of time for in-person early voting and increase the number of locations for such voting;
- Modify the "wrong precinct rule" (currently voters who show up to the right polling place but vote a provisional ballot at the wrong table or precinct will have their entire vote voided);
- Revise Ohio statutes that specify form layout and design and begin usability testing such materials to reduce voter errors;
- Revise Ohio BMV change of address laws in Ohio to comply with federal law;
- Clarify Ohio law concerning nonmatched voter registration data and develop clear rules for processing relevant nonmatches;
- Develop better and uniform practices for notifying voters of errors to their absentee and provisional ballots, and provide them with an opportunity to correct those errors;
- Explore buying pools for boards of elections to give them greater negotiating power and reduce costs