Columbus -- A conservative group says it will pursue a ballot issue if lawmakers don't move legislation requiring eligible residents to show government-issued photo identification cards to vote.
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During a lobbying day at the Statehouse May 29, the Ohio Christian Alliance and other supporters indicated they would launch an initiated statute in 2015, absent lawmaker action on the issue before year's end.
The process would involve circulating petitions and collecting more than 100,000 signatures before the end of the year. The legislature would then have about four months to act before backers circulate more petitions and gather another 275,000-plus signatures to place the issue on the November ballot.
"With 29 days of open voting still available, there continues to exist an opportunity for those who intend to commit voter fraud to take advantage of Ohio's open-ended election season," said Chris Long, president of the Ohio Christian Alliance. "The post-election reports detail a story that voter fraud is a growing problem in Ohio. The only way to address this challenge to Ohio's election system is to adopt a photo ID requirement."
Under current law, residents must show a valid driver's license or government-issued ID or an original copy of a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or other government document that includes the voter's name and current address in order to cast a regular ballot on Election Day.
The Ohio Christian Alliance wants to change that to require a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot.
There's already a bill pending in the Ohio House on the issue. Rep. John Becker, a Cincinnati-area Republican, in September introduced HB 269, which generally would require a driver's license, state-issued identification card, military ID or U.S. passport to vote. The bill also calls for needy Ohioans to be issued free state identification cards.
Photo ID legislation isn't new. Comparable bills have been debated in recent years but have not moved too far beyond one chamber.
Republican leaders of the Ohio House and Senate have offered no indications that the issue will be addressed before the end of the year.
Proponents say the change is needed to prevent ineligible Ohioans from casting ballots. The Ohio Christian Alliance released an audit of the 2012 presidential election that included anecdotal evidence of potential wrongdoing.
"… It's all about defending the citizens, the common person, who trusts the system and votes and expects their vote to count and doesn't expect someone from out of state or a college student or someone who's got motives that we can't even understand, who then goes and votes and negates their vote." said Tom Zawistowski, head of the Portage County Tea Party.
But opponents say a photo ID requirement would hurt elderly, needy, disabled, homeless and other Ohioans, many of whom tend to side with Democratic candidates. They say the requirement would be expensive to administer and that there are few instances of actual election fraud each year.
"It's a very misguided policy to pursue," said Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent), a frequent critic of Republican-backed election law changes.
Clyde said there are already laws on the books to handle voter fraud.
"We don't need to enact such a stringent restriction … to combat that problem," she said.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.