With 2016 approaching, Ohio Republicans are making a new push for a voter ID bill—setting the stage for another battle over voting in the nation’s most pivotal swing state.
Legislation introduced last week by conservatives in the statehouse would require that voters show a driver’s license, passport or military ID. They could also get a special state ID card which costs $8.50, or is free for those who make less than the federal poverty line—$11,770 a year.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Andrew Brenner, has offered the usual rationale: the need to stop illegal voting by non-residents, non-citizens or others.
At a recent press conference, Brenner said the measure is important “for the sanctity of making sure that it is one person, one vote and they are in fact residents and citizens of the United States.”
Of course, the evidence suggests that illegal voting is as rare in the Buckeye State as elsewhere. Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, has also raised concerns about the threat of non-citizen voting, but he acknowledged in a comprehensive 2013 report that just 17 non-citizens had cast votes in the 2012 election, out of 5.63 million votes cast. And since non-citizens can obtain driver’s licenses in Ohio, a photo ID requirement wouldn’t necessarily stop such votes.
As for other types of illegal voting, a separate Husted report found that fewer than 0.003% of votes in that election could have been fraudulent.
Meanwhile, more than 930,000 eligible Ohioans—disproportionately non-whites, college students and those with low incomes—may not have the ID required and could be at risk of being disenfranchised under the law, according to a 2012 report by Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal-leaning think tank.
Since Republicans won full control of Ohio’s legislature in 2010, they’ve tried on two previous occasions to pass voter ID laws. Those efforts both foundered in part thanks to opposition from Husted, the secretary of state.
“Photo ID is good, but we should have some other options in the circumstances that people don’t have a photo ID,” Husted said last September.
There’s nothing to indicate Husted has changed his position. A spokesman for the secretary of state didn’t respond to two requests for comment from msnbc about the new bill.
Democrats and voting rights advocates have been quick to denounce the proposal.
State Rep. Alicia Reece, who is leading a campaign for an amendment to the state constitution to protect voting rights, said in a statement that voter ID laws “unfairly target seniors, college students and newer, younger first-time voters,” and she called the new bill “part of a larger coordinated movement to suppress the vote in Ohio and beyond.”
Mike Brickner, senior policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said the bill is “yet another attempt to make it harder for working people to cast their ballot.”
If the bill does find a way to Gov. John Kasich’s desk, it could make things awkward for him. The governor has been taking steps toward a possible presidential run, and a partisan controversy over voter ID could tarnish his image as a pragmatic problem-solver. But a veto could inflame conservative base voters.
In 2004, a lack of voting machines, predicted in advance, created all-day waits in student- and minority-heavy areas, leading an estimated 174,000 would-be voters to give up in frustration, a Democratic report found. President Bush won Ohio, and with it the election, by 119,000 votes.