Substitute H.B. 3
Samuel Gresham, Director of Outreach
Common Cause Ohio
Before the Senate Rules Committee
The Honorable William Harris, Chair
December 6, 2005

Common Cause is a nationwide, nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner, as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.  Today we have nearly 300,000 members and supporters across the country, including nearly 10,000 in Ohio, where Common Cause has been in operation since the 1970s, and we remain committed to honest, open and accountable government, as well as encouraging citizen participation in democracy.

We thank you for your time to hear our testimony to this committee today.  We appreciate that the Ohio General Assembly seeks to build voter confidence and integrity into the electoral process, particularly at a time when the state is changing over to new voting equipment and new procedures on how to handle accountability, reliability, and security at polling locations and at the Boards of Elections.  Many of the problems encountered on Election Day, 2004 exposed flaws in the process of conducting elections and the legislature has the opportunity to remedy some of the most problematic issues that have been exposed. 

As an organization that cares passionately that all voices be heard on critical policy issues and believes that government must work in an open and accountable manner, we are concerned that the extensive and dramatic rewriting of Sub. H.B. 3 was done in such a short timeline that there was no real opportunity allowed for public comment.

House Bill 3 passed the House in May, 2005 with too little consideration given to advocacy organizations and the public, many of whom have significant input to offer regarding this substantial set of proposals. In our experience, good government processes in developing legislation often lead to good policy and bad processes often lead to bad policy.  It was our hope that the Ohio Senate would invite groups to weigh in on the strengths, weaknesses, omissions, and other considerations that are present in the House version of this bill.  However, that has not been the case and advocacy organizations, election experts and citizens have not been part of the process to rewrite Sub. H.B. 3 and we are concerned that this will be to the detriment of Ohio voters.  Moreover, updated versions of Sub. H.B. 3 were made available last week, and then again late yesterday afternoon, far too little time to adequately review hundreds of pages of legislation.  We encourage you not to rush Senate Sub Bill 3 out of committee and give the rights and access of Ohio voters a careful, open and deliberative process, including full consideration of the testimony given here today and the contents of reviews we intend to do later throughout this week.

As we said before the Representatives earlier this year, Sub. H.B. 3 contains some good elements, more bad elements and is missing several reforms key to improving elections here in Ohio. Today I am offering testimony after our initial review of the legislation so please do not take these comments to be our final thoughts on the good, the bad and the missing regarding Sub. H.B. 3.  We are pleased that the proposal that would require the Secretary of State (SoS) to publish directives and advisories on a website of the office of the Secretary of State within 24 hours and not remove those directives and advisories, in addition to having to maintain an archive of all posted directives (lines 2987-2995, p. 97).  As the Chief Election Officer, the directives that the Secretary of State issues have legal authority over the Boards of Elections and should be noted for the public domain. 

We are disappointed in several provisions that we believe will decrease access to the polls and that could result in eligible voters either not casting a vote or not having a cast vote count.  Perhaps most significantly, the new voter identification rules that have been added into the legislation, though they are not as restrictive from the voter only being able to provide photo identification, are a step in the wrong direction.  There is nothing wrong with the current system to check in at the polls and place your signature against the one that is already digitally imaged on the page for proof of voter identification.  The new provisions related to identification will force some voters to use provisional ballots, send some voters away without voting and only increase the workload of poll workers on Election Day.  These new voter identification provisions do nothing in terms of improving the elector’s opportunity for or experience of voting, rather, having all electors provide identification will slow down the processing of the vote and discourage eligible voters who do not currently have the required identification. 

            We are also disappointed that the definition of jurisdiction continues to be the precinct in which the elector is qualified to vote, rather than the county in which the voter is registered.  In 2004, over 10,000 ballots were not counted because the voter did not cast their provisional ballot at the precinct in which they were assigned.  With the implementation of the new centralized voter database and adequate poll worker training and voter education, the necessity of provisional balloting may diminish, though the voter should be able to have the opportunity to have their vote cast be counted if they have voted in their county of residence.

We disagree with the proposal that requires any person who is being paid to do voter registration work to register with the county Board of Elections and go through a training class conducted by a Board supervisor.  This clause discourages those who are seeking out eligible voters and can only diminish civic participation.  Together we should focus on the real fraud going on in elections and not restrict new registrants and legitimate voters who want to be part of the electoral process.  Our understanding is that this requirement would not apply to those who are registering voters as volunteers and so the intent is confusing at best.  Voter registration is an integral component in participatory democracy and the Ohio Senate should not be seen as alienating those who would be hired to do this work. 

Additionally, the new version of Sub H.B. 3 eliminate random audits on voting equipment which will perhaps further diminish voter confidence in the election system.  Accuracy and reliability reports done through an audit would allay concerns at the Boards of Elections and in the public trust that there is transparency in the process to guarantee that the software is sound.  We encourage you to reinstate the random audits consider incorporating new uniform procedures that would deal with the acquisition of new voting equipment around the state, and how the vote is to be cast and counted.  Election Reform legislation should encompass best standards to guarantee the integrity, reliability, and security of this new voting equipment.  The proposal to eliminate random audits after an election only diminishes the public trust, particularly regarding electronic voting machines.

Beyond these proposals with which we disagree, there are some key reforms that must be a part of any true reform legislation and that do not appear in Sub. H.B. 3, including; allowing non-partisan observers access to the polling place and the counting process; educating for ex-felons about their right to register and vote upon being released from prison;   explicitly outlawing the use of deceptive practices by any individual or organizations during the electoral process; improving and standardizing poll worker training; and adequately ensuring that the new machines are counting ballots as voters intended. 

            Finally, we are deeply concerned that the bill’s fiscal analysis does not represent one additional cent needed for implementation for Sub. H.B. 3.  Implementation of this legislation certainly will have financial considerations for Boards of Elections across the state.  Poll worker training on new procedures for processing voter identification and accurate provisional balloting needs to be considered.  In addition, voter education will need to be done on the new voter identification requirements.  Boards of Elections will have additional costs in order to have to train voter registration advocates that register in their counties.  These are just a few costs that immediately come to mind.

We urge you to slow the process of this important legislation and take the time to deliberate openly about the needs and benefits of the many changes before you.  Ohio citizens deserve the best election reform legislation and we are eager to work with you on such legislation.  Thank you for your time today.