This topic is monitored by Moritz Law Professor Terri L. Enns
Purging of Voter Registration Lists in Ohio
One of the major criticisms arising from the 2000 presidential election focused on the way in which Florida purged its voter registration lists. Numerous persons claimed that they were improperly removed from the lists and subsequently denied the right to vote in the presidential election. In Ohio, the accuracy of voter lists and the impact of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), passed partly in response to problems with Florida's election system, are not clear. 1
Ohio Voter Registration Lists
In Ohio, voter registration lists are maintained mainly at the local boards of elections. While the Secretary of State keeps a list of registered voters, 2 most voters register with their local boards of elections or other local entities. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires each state to create a statewide voter registration list by January 1, 2004, but Ohio was one of over forty states that requested a waiver until 2006. The Secretary of State is developing a statewide system and expects to have the new system active in time for the November 2004 election.
In Ohio, once a person has registered to vote, the person is not required to register again unless his or her registration has been cancelled. 3 The registration may be cancelled for the following reasons: 4
- the voter requests that his or her registration be cancelled;
- the voter dies;
- the voter is convicted of a felony 5;
- the voter is ruled incompetent to vote;
- the voter changes his or her residence to a new county and fails to respond to a confirmation notice sent by the board of elections or otherwise to update his or her registration and does not vote in any election during the period of two federal elections after the mailing of the notice 6; or
- the voter has not voted for four years, receives a confirmation notice, and then fails to either:
- respond to the notice and vote once during the following four consecutive years, or
- update the registration and vote at least once during the following four consecutive years.
Twice a year, the boards of elections must send their voter registration lists to the Secretary of State. Once every two years the Secretary of State sends the information from these lists to a national change of address service and receives a list of voters who have moved during the previous thirty-six months. 7 The Secretary of State then provides that change-of-address information to the board of elections in each county so that the board can send a notice requesting confirmation that the person has moved, including a change of address form and a postage-paid, pre-addressed return envelope.
Each month, the registration lists kept by the county board of elections are updated using information provided by other county agencies in order to purge the list of those disqualified from voting by death, incompetence, or conviction. 8
In 2001-2002, nearly 1.2 million names were deleted from voter registration lists in Ohio. 9
Official Lists for Elections
Before each election, each county board of elections is responsible for creating an official registration list for each precinct. 10 The list must be created at least fifteen days before an election, and must include the name and address, as well as political party of those who voted in recent primaries, in either alphabetical order or geographical order by street. These lists are available to the public at the board of elections.
Any person qualified to vote in the county may seek either to add names to the list or to strike names from the list. 11 The application to add or strike must be made no later than eleven days before the election. On receiving an application, the director of the board of elections must promptly set a time and date for a hearing, which must be held no later than two days before an election. The director sends a written notice of the hearing, not later than three days before the scheduled hearing, to any person whose name is alleged to be omitted or whose right to vote is being challenged. The person may bring witnesses and counsel. Additionally, the person may request that the board issue subpoenas to require witnesses to appear and testify.
The board will decide immediately after the hearing whether to add or delete the person's name from the list. The board's decision is final. 12 However, judicial review may be possible through procedures such as a mandamus action.
Election Day Issues
In some cases, a registered voter may vote even if that person's name does not appear on the precinct registration list. If the voter has moved to a new county, the voter must go to the county board of elections to vote and will be counted as a provisional voter. If the voter has moved from one precinct to another within the same county, the voter may vote at the new precinct or at the board of elections and will be counted as a provisional voter.
The right of any person to vote may be challenged at the polling place on Election Day by any challenger, elector, or any precinct polling place judge or clerk of elections. 13 Following a hearing, the precinct polling place judges will decide whether or not the person is entitled to vote. Ohio law states that the decision of the judges is final. 14 However, HAVA states that when an election official asserts that an individual is not eligible to vote, that individual shall be permitted to cast a provisional ballot if the individual declares that he or she is eligible to vote. 15 Accordingly, the 2004 election could produce circumstances in which a subsequent determination, pursuant to HAVA, that a provisional ballot should be counted supersedes a "final" decision of election judges that the voter was ineligible. Of course, this assumes that election workers have complied with HAVA's provisional ballot requirements.
1. See Thomas Hargrove, Many Names Didn't Belong on Voter Rolls in 2000, Columbus Dispatch, May 9, 2004, at B1.
2. Ohio Revised Code § 3503.07 (west 1995)
3. Ohio Revised Code § 3503.07 (West 1995)
4. Ohio Revised Code § 3503.21(A) (West 1995)
5. Once the person convicted of a felony has been released from prison, the person may register to vote. In Ohio, only incarcerated felons are prohibited from voting. Offenders on probation, paroled felons, and all ex-felons are permitted to vote, and once a felon is paroled, pardoned, or granted judicial release he or she may register to vote.
6. Ohio Revised Code § 3503.21(B) (West 1995)
7. Ohio Revised Code § 3503.21(D) (West 1995)
8. Ohio Revised Code § 3503.18 (Supp. 2004). The chief health officer of each political subdivision and the director of health supply names of all persons over the age of eighteen who have died within the preceding month. The probate judge provides names of persons over the age of eighteen who have been adjudicated incompetent for the purpose of voting. The clerk of courts supplies the names of those convicted of crimes that would disqualify the person from voting.
9 "The Impact of the National Voter Registration Act of 1992 on the Administration of Elections for Federal Office 2001-2002," available at www.fec.gov/pages/nvrareport2002/nvrareport2002.pdf
10. Ohio Revised Code § 3503.23(A) (Supp. 2004)
11. Ohio Revised Code § 3503.24 (Supp. 2004)
12. Ohio Revised Code § 3505.20 (Supp. 2004)
13. Ohio Revised Code § 3505.20 (Supp. 2004)
14. Ohio Revised Code § 3505.20 (Supp. 2004)
15. Help America Vote Act § 302(a)