Commentary

04.27.15

Voter Registration: Ohio Needs to Join the 21st Century

By

Polling Place

This is the second article in the “Online for All” series.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 finds that “discriminations against individuals with disabilities” persist in critical areas, such as voting.  It stipulates that all state and local governments ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to government programs and services, as well as requires equally effective communications to these individuals.

In Ohio, with regard specifically to voter registration, we still haven’t entered the 21st century.

Read our first article, “‘Online For All’ Makes All the Sense in the World.”

Where Is Ohio?

As of March 2015, a total of 20 states offer full online voter registration, with another five states waiting to implement the system, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Ohio, on the other hand, has a limited online registration system that only allows updates to be made to existing voter registrations. New voter registration applications must still be done on paper.

A new ACLU report, “Access Denied: Barriers to Online Voter Registration Systems” discusses what makes online voter registration systems accessible for people with disabilities then evaluated 20 states’ current online registration systems. The results were disappointing overall, and especially for Ohio’s website.

“Currently, Ohio’s voter registration website failed seven out of nine accessibility categories,” said ACLU of Ohio Senior Policy Director Mike Brickner. “This just isn’t acceptable. One in 10 potential voters need an accessible site. We need a full online voter registration system that works for all Ohioans.”

That’s bad news for many of Ohio’s nearly 900,000 voting-age citizens who have some sort of physical or mental disability, not to mention over 125,000 younger Ohioans who have disabilities and well may face voter registration obstacles in the near future. Additionally, seniors, people with limited English proficiency, and people with limited literacy also struggle with Ohio’s current voter registration system and would benefit from a robust voter registration system, with a fully accessible website.

Online for All

Online for All

Like most people without a disability, those who have one usually have limited time or energy to devote to filling out confusing forms, understanding the convoluted language, copying required documentation and going out to register. On top of this, people who have a disability also have very obvious issues arranging transportation, not to mention the obstacles facing those with a hearing, vision, or mental disability.

“Online for All” is an important action program of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. It advocates for an easy-to-use, vigorous online registration system in Ohio that will address many of these difficulties and allow those with disabilities to participate in our democracy. Existing technology and registration programs, employed and proven successful in many other states, would allow Ohio to much better serve the many hundreds of thousands of its citizens who now are undeserved, contrary to law.

So let’s get our lawmakers firmly into the 21st century. They need to understand that every vote is vital, so every voter registration is too. All new Ohio voters, especially those with disabilities, should be able to register online via a fully accessible website.

Fred Ross is a volunteer for the ACLU of Ohio.

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