COLUMBUS- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio called on legislators today to slow down passage of Ohio House Bill 159, which would require photo identification in order for voters to cast a ballot in person. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Robert Mecklenborg (R-Green Township) and Rep. Louis Blessing, Jr. (R-Cincinnati). On Tuesday, March 22, the bill will receive its second hearing before the House Committee on State Government and Elections, which Rep. Mecklenborg chairs. The bill was introduced last week and sponsor testimony was given on March 15, the same day Governor Kasich released his biennial budget proposal.

ACLU of Ohio Staff Counsel Carrie Davis said, “This bill was introduced under the cover of Governor Kasich’s highly anticipated budget announcement, and may be voted on only a week later. A week is simply not enough time for the public or the committee to adequately discuss the many challenges such a law presents.”

A section of the bill requires the state to create a process for indigent Ohioans to obtain free state photo IDs, but does not make clear how this would be paid for and who would qualify for a free ID. A short fiscal analysis was released on March 21, but did not adequately address how many Ohioans would be impacted by the legislation.

“Requiring photo identification will place another unnecessary hurdle before Ohioans who wish to cast ballots but do not have access to a photo ID. The legislation only provides a vague promise that free IDs will be provided to those who cannot pay, but does not say how someone would qualify for one,” added Davis. “In addition, it may cost millions of dollars to implement this bill. Given Ohio’s current budget crisis, it is reckless to pass this legislation without fully considering the financial implications.”

Missouri recently conducted a fiscal analysis of a similar bill and found it would cost $22 million over three years. The Institute for Southern Studies also analyzed a similar North Carolina bill and found it would cost between $18.5-$22.5 million dollars over three years. Indiana recently enacted a photo ID requirement and in 2010 spent over $1.3 million on production costs of IDs alone. Ohio’s population is significantly greater than all three of these states.

The next hearing will take place at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 before the House Committee on State Government and Elections.

“Without clear guidelines and funding, many poor and working class Ohioans may be disenfranchised by this modern day poll tax,” concluded Davis. “There is little evidence of in person voter fraud to justify such hasty action. Lawmakers must slow down the process to consider the ramifications of this bill on voters and our cash-strapped budget.”

Update: 03.24.11
Only one week after being introduced, HB 159 was rushed through the House. The House State Government and Elections committee reported the bill on March 22, and it was passed by the full House on March 23 by a 57-38 vote. HB 159 is now on its way to the Ohio Senate.