Democratic Ohio House member looks to introduce automatic voter registration bill

By: - January 10, 2020 12:45 am

This voting sticker, designed by student Emily Legg, was chosen in May to be the new sticker in Ohio. Photo courtesy the Secretary of State’s Office.

A new proposal to require voters to be automatically registered to vote could be filed in the Ohio House by the end of the week, according to its sponsor.

State Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Cleveland, is pushing forward with a move that has been supported by Secretary of State Frank LaRose in the past, and has a similar measure sitting in the Senate.

Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Cleveland

The new bill would require the voter registration process to be an opt-out program rather than opt-in, as it stands now. So, when drivers renew their licenses, or new homeowners update their address or residents have any interaction with a state agency that involves updates to their location, they will be registered as an Ohio voter as well, unless they decline.

“If people want to vote, we should have every system in place to allow them to do that,” Sweeney told the Capital Journal. “This is definitely the best way that we as legislators can make sure that they have the opportunity.”

LaRose has expressed his support for the concept in the past, asking for the legislation to make it happen all the way back in April.

The Ohio Senate was presented with a similar bill, which would adopt a process called the Voter Verification and Registration Program. That bill was referred to the Government and Oversight and Reform Committee in September.

Update 1/10: When LaRose was working the senate on the bill, he stressed the need for an update to the registration system.

“It is time to modernize Ohio’s registration process with the dual goal of increasing civic engagement while at the same time preventing fraud by keeping more accurate voter rolls,” LaRose said. “The clear goal of this bill is secure and accessible elections for every eligible Ohio voter.”

Sweeney said Ohio has had trouble in the past ensuring the eligible voters make it to the polls, when the Golden Week was removed, and the voting purge removed hundreds of thousands from the rolls, almost taking some eligible voters with them.

Making registration automatic would make purging “moot,” Sweeney said, and open up a lot of other groups that focus on registration to focus on voter education and issues instead. Sweeney believes the new measure would increase voter turnout on election day as well.

“It’s just the right thing to do, this is just good government,” Sweeney said.

Nonpartisan law and policy organization The Brennan Center for Justice did a study on automatic registration which found marked increases in the number of registered voters when automatic voter registration was utilized in other states like California, Vermont and Oregon.

Sweeney expects to file the bill for introduction in committee by the end of this week or the beginning of next week.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.