At state lawmakers’ summit, experts discuss election policies that implicate Ohio

By: - August 22, 2023 4:50 am

A poll worker checks a voter’s identification during the Ohio primary election, May 3, 2022, at the Ascension Lutheran Church, Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes. Republish photo only with original story.)

The National Conference of State Legislatures held its annual summit in Indianapolis last week. The organization serves as a resource for state lawmakers around the country, and a bipartisan panel on elections weighed a handful of issues that intersect with recent policy changes in Ohio.

MIT political scientist Charles Stewart led the panel, which included Chad Ennis from the Honest Elections Project, Rachel Orey from the Bipartisan Policy Center, Liz Howard from the Brennan Center for Justice and Matt Germer from the R Street Institute.

Who’s paying?

One point where the panelists seemed to agree was discomfort with private election funding. The most notable recent example of which were so-called “Zuckerbucks” during the 2020 election. Those grants from a foundation backed by Meta’s founder helped cover election administration in underfunded jurisdictions. Conservatives, however, argued it was a ploy to boost Democratic turnout.

Ohio lawmakers reacted quickly, passing a law in 2021 prohibiting elections officials from working with nongovernmental groups on things like voter registration and voter education. More than 20 other states have taken similar steps.

In March, Nazek Hapasha from the League of Women Voters criticized state lawmakers for approving strict new photo voter ID requirements without providing funding for boards to help educate voters. Because of the prohibitions passed in 2021 county boards can’t coordinate their efforts with outside groups like the League or VoteRiders.

But Chad Ennis argued any outside funding presents a conflict of interest.

“I’ll put it this way, take it out of elections,” he said. “Would you want the NRA funding the permitting process for guns in a county? That seems like that wouldn’t be too good.”

Meanwhile Rachel Orey argued that although private funding isn’t ideal, the need for it highlights important funding gaps.

“If states are going to restrict the use of private funding for election administration — which we do support — we think they have to take a careful look at where those gaps are in their current funding process,” Orey said. “Because if you take away this source of funding that was critical in making sure that elections were secure in 2020, then you leave a big gap going into 2024.”

ERIC and list maintenance

Panel moderator Charles Stewart noted maintaining correct voter rolls is a challenge, in large part because people move. “Between every presidential election roughly 45% of Americans move,” he said, “and we aren’t required to tell anybody that we’ve moved.” Another 5% of voters die between elections, he explained, but dying creates a lot of paperwork.

“It’s easier to follow dead people and get them off the rolls than movers,” Stewart said. “Keep in mind that movers are about 10 times more than die-ers and that’s a big challenge.”

“I’m one of them,” Matt Germer volunteered. He explained he’s lived in four different states over the last ten years. He said it’s often much easier to register in your new state than it is to un-register in your former one.

“Fortunately, most Americans I think are not the type to vote in both jurisdictions — but they could,” he warned.

He argued the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, was an invaluable resource for keeping voter rolls up to date. The multi-state compact allowed members to compare voter data to maintain their own databases and to catch potential fraud.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose removed Ohio from the program last March.

As part of the agreement, ERIC required member states to actively encourage eligible but unregistered voters to register. LaRose’s letter argued they should be able to access ERIC’s services “a la carte.

Ennis argued ERIC’s requirements for reaching voters could be expensive and prescriptive. As an example he brought up reliance on mailers instead of other means of communication. Germer seemed puzzled with that reasoning.

“I think the right way forward should have been for states frustrated with their perceptions of ERIC to go back to ERIC and reform ERIC,” he said. “Instead, what we’ve seen are a number of states throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

Before joining the Brennan Center, Liz Howard served as the deputy commissioner of elections in Virginia. In that role she got first-hand experience with ERIC, and she insisted the program worked well.

“Our local election officials were appreciative of the quality of data that they received,” Howard said, noting locals had the final call on removing voters from the rolls.

“The ERIC data gave them confidence that what they were doing was appropriate,” she explained.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.


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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.