Jan 10, 2008

Low-Income Citizens Should Have a Voice

As the 2008 election campaign goes into full swing, candidates, politicians and the media are all focused on what votes they can count on: independent, senior, and young voters to name a few. However, an important step in the process that is often overlooked is that before somebody can actually vote in most states, they must be registered to vote.

The 1993 National Voter Registration Act was passed to make it easier for citizens to register to vote. It required states to offer voter registration at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Thus, this act is frequently referred to as the “Motor Voter” law. Recognizing that not all citizens have a diver’s license, Congress imposed other provisions in the Act to ensure that all citizens would have an opportunity.

Section 7 of the act “requires states to offer voter registration opportunities at all offices that provide public assistance and all offices that provide state-funded programs primarily engaged in providing services to persons with disabilities.”1 Although this section was designed to make registering to vote easier for low-income citizens, government enforcement has been lax.

A report to the 110th Congress dated June 30, 2007 shows that Ohio received only 42,599 voter registrations from public assistance offices over the two year period of 2004-2006.2 Serving millions of adults annually, public assistance agencies must do a better job in registering low-income citizens to vote.

A total of 882,708 voter registration applications were received over the same time period.3 In contrast, the motor vehicle offices collected 400,562 applications for voter registration.4

Cuyahoga and Franklin counties are the two most populated counties in the state, accounting for about 21 percent of the entire state population. However, these two counties combined only accounted for 2003 voter registration applications or about 4 percent of all voter registration applications received at public assistance offices.5 Montgomery County, on the other hand, has only half the population of Cuyahoga or Franklin County and recorded 7,925 voter registration applications at their public assistance office.6

Clearly, there is a large discrepancy in the services provided to low-income citizens across the state. According to Ohio Revised Code 3503.10, each designated public assistance agency is required to offer each and every client the opportunity to register to vote with “each application for services or assistance, and with each written application or form for recertification, renewal, or change of address.”7 If this section of the law were enforced across the board, more low-income citizens would be registered to vote.

However, depending on the county that you live in, there is no guarantee that clients are being asked if they would like to register. Merely having the applications available for clients that specifically ask for the form is not adhering to the current law. Steps need to be taken to assure that all public assistance agencies are asking clients if they would like to register and including the forms with regular applications for services.

The Secretary of State’s office must monitor designated agencies to ensure compliance with NVRA.

Another option to ensure that all Ohioans are able to cast their vote is to offer Election Day Registration (EDR). “Election Day Registration (EDR), sometimes called 'same day registration' (SDR), allows eligible voters to register and cast a ballot on Election Day.”8

Currently, nine states offer this option with positive voter turnout results: Maine; Minnesota; Wisconsin; Idaho; New Hampshire; Wyoming; Montana; Iowa and North Carolina.9 “More than 787,000 individuals used EDR to register and vote in the 2006 general election.”10

Ohio should seriously consider Election Day Registration or same day registration to increase participation in one of our most important civic duties: voting.

Rebekah Evans, Administrative Intern
1. U.S. Department of Justice. Civil Rights Division. Voting Section Home Page. About the National Voter Registration Act. Retrieved from: target="_blank">http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/nvra/activ_nvra.htm, last accessed January 8, 2008.

2, 3, 4. U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The Impact of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 on the Administration of Elections for Federal Office 2005-2006. A Report to the 110th Congress, June 30, 2007, page 34. Retrieved from: http://projectvote.org/fileadmin/ProjectVote/Publications/EAC_NVRArpt2006.pdf, last accessed December 11, 2007.

5,6. E-mail communication on 12/12/07 with Brian Green, Elections Counsel, Office of the Secretary of State. EAC Voter Registration Report.

7. Law Writer. Ohio Laws & Rules. Chapter 3503: Voters = Qualifications; Registration. Retrieved from: http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/3503, last accessed January 9, 2008.

8, 9, 10. Demos: A Network for Ideas and Actions. Voters Win with Election Day Registration. Updated winter 2008. Retrieved from: http://www.demos.org/pubs/Voters%20Win.pdf Last accessed January 9, 2008.