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Ohio ruling penalizes voters

Last Wednesday, Ohio’s Republican secretary of state, John R. Husted, declared a uniform early-voting policy, after complaints that certain liberal-leaning areas had less time to vote than some of their conservative counterparts. While this was a necessary decision that should have been made long ago, Ohio, a key swing state, still has a ways to go in ensuring fairness at the polls.

In the name of combating the largely imaginary threat of “voter fraud,” Republicans in states such as Pennsylvania and Texas have sought to impose ID requirements that would disproportionately affect groups that typically support Democrats. But voter ID laws aren’t all that could infringe on the franchise.

In Ohio, a recent battle over provisional ballots has revealed another kind of restriction, one with a less clear-cut partisan motivation that’s nonetheless decidedly anti-voter.

Provisional ballots are used when there’s some question as to voters’ eligibility or some irregularity that prevents them from filing regular ballots.

Under Ohio law, provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct aren’t counted – even if those ballots were cast following poll workers’ directions. Especially in urban areas, Ohio voters often go to polling places that contain multiple precincts in the same location. Those ballots – by one estimate, as many as 14,000 in the last presidential election – don’t count, and through no fault of the voters.

Of course, these excluded ballots constitute a tiny percentage of the millions Ohio will count. But elections are often decided on narrow margins of victory. Furthermore, each vote is sacred to the voter who went through the trouble of casting it, and unless this portion of state law is changed, Ohio will be sending a message to its voters that it doesn’t value their participation. A lawsuit has rightly challenged state law.

Husted said that the issue at hand is ultimately one of “personal responsibility.” Fundamentally, he argued, “what this lawsuit is about is whether it’s an individual’s responsibility or the government’s responsibility to make sure you cast your ballot properly.” It’s an individual’s responsibility to vote, but it’s the government’s responsibility to make sure those votes are counted properly.