By BOBBY WARREN Staff Writer Published: May 9, 2015 4:00AM
WOOSTER — Online voter registration: It makes the process easier for those with Internet access, will save elections workers some time and money and it won’t cost local officials any more money. Count the Wayne County commissioners in.
Scott Wiggam, Jim Carmichael and Ann Obrecht met with Josette Burns of the Secretary of State’s Office, along with the county’s top elections officials, Peter James and Julie Leathers, to discuss the topic Monday.
Secretary of State Jon Husted is trying to build momentum with the issue to have state legislators approve of the measure, so he is asking for support from county commissioners, which is why Burns was in Wayne County.
The commissioners met with Burns previously to hear more about the issue, and they were initially skeptical, primarily because they did not know what it would cost county taxpayers.
Burns reported back there would be no local cost to implementing online voter registration, and it might even save the county money.
Husted’s office estimated the Wayne County Board of Elections will save between 50 cents and $1 per registration. For the registration forms it processed from 2011-2014, it would have amounted to $20,100-$40,200.
James, though, said he did not think the county’s savings would be a lot because his office does not hire additional people to handle registrations.
“It’s an everyday thing,” Leathers said. “Some days there are 10; some days there are two.”
Obrecht was concerned about how the state would verify voters.
Residents would register through the Secretary of State’s website and have to enter specific information like name, address, last four digits of their Social Security number and driver’s license or state identification card number.
If all of the fields are not filled in or there are discrepancies, then the applicant will be notified to register in-person at the local board of elections office or to mail in an application.
The driver’s license/state ID card information is required in order to obtain a copy of the person’s signature. Poll books used in precincts contain voters’ signatures for verification.
Elections offices already receive change of address information electronically from the Secretary of State’s office, James said. It obtains copies of voters’ signatures from driver’s licenses and state ID cards with the address changes. He anticipates if online registration is approved by the Legislature, then it will be a similar process. “It will make it easier, not harder,” James said, adding it also provided customer service to residents by making the process easier.
“So, it’s a no-brainer?” Carmichael asked.
“I can’t see any reason” not to do it, James said.
If online voter registration does become a reality, Burns said people will still be able to go into a board of elections office and register in person. “We’re not eliminating or taking away any options,” she said.
Though Husted and the commissioners support the concept, state legislators will still need to give their approval.
State Rep. Ron Amstutz, a Wooster Republican, said he spoke with Husted earlier this year about online registration, but he is not on board with it right now.
“I’m not opposing it, … but we need to be careful when we go forward with these kinds of things,” Amstutz said. He also wants to consult with board of elections officials.
While Amstutz is approaching this with caution, state Sen. Frank LaRose, a Copley Republican, is the one who introduced the bill during the last General Assembly. It did not go anywhere, so he introduced it again. It has been referred to the Government Oversight Committee, but it has not been scheduled for a hearing.
“Most people are initially hesitant,” LaRose said. However, they tend to become more favorable when they understand the safeguards in the law, which includes the mandatory data regarding the driver’s license or state ID number. By accessing the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles database, not only will the signature be available, but also citizenship status and address information.
“A lot of people worry about hackers,” LaRose said, probably because of the government’s track record, like the Affordable Care Act rollout. “This is a lot different. We are not plowing new ground. Arizona did it with great success” more than a decade ago.
LaRose said he has been focused on talking to his Senate colleagues about the bill, adding he needs to schedule some time to speak with Amstutz about the issue. He is lobbying Senate President Keith Faber to get a hearing scheduled for the bill.
Reporter Bobby Warren can be reached at 330-287-1639 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He is @BobbyWarrenTDR on Twitter.