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COLUMBUS -- Ohioans would be automatically registered to vote unless they opt out of the process, under legislation being introduced by a Democratic state lawmaker.
Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) has offered comparable legislation in the past as way to ensure that eligible residents can participate in elections and have their ballots counted.
She estimated that 1 million Ohioans would be added to the voter rolls as a result of the bill.
"Automatic voter registration is the solution to voter purging and to voter oppression," Clyde said during a morning press conference Feb. 9 at the Statehouse. "There's no valid reason not to enact this legislation in Ohio The registration should be an opt-out system, not an opt-in system."
Under the bill, residents with drivers licenses or state identification cards would be automatically registered or have their existing voter registrations renewed when they interact with certain state agencies, including disabilities, veterans services and job and family services offices.
High school students who turn 18 also would be automatically added to the rolls.
Those not wanting to be registered could opt out in person or through the mail.
Additionally, the legislation would allow eligible Ohioans who do not hold a photo ID to register using the state's new online system.
Clyde was critical of Republican-backed law and policy changes in recent years that she said have made it more difficult for residents to vote or have led to the purging of otherwise eligible residents' registrations.
"There are endless ways to use voter registration rules to deter and confuse voters," Clyde said. "We need to take away this weapon of voter oppression. Republicans have wrapped voter registration in a cloak of danger and even criminality. They treat it like an admission to an exclusive country club instead of what it must be: everyone's ticket to our democracy."
Clyde's proposal does not have the support of Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted.
Asked about automatic registration last month, Husted said, "If you do something like that, you're going to put a lot of people on the voter rolls that don't necessarily want to be there. You'll create a situation where you'll have people who are on the voter rolls that won't know that they're on the voter rolls, who may not want to be on the voter rolls. And then you'll have an even harder time of maintaining the voter rolls accurately as people move and change addresses, and that opens up to a greater risk of fraud. I don't think it's a good policy."
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.