CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - 2016 marks the first presidential election in Ohio in which absentee or provisional ballots with spelling errors or other mistakes in personal information will not be counted. What does this mean for your vote?
In 2014, the Ohio legislature passed a law requiring voters to accurately fill out personal information such as name, address, birthday, signature and social security number on absentee and provisional ballots. Ballots with inaccurate information are rejected, even if they are otherwise valid.
The practice received immediate backlash from Democratic advocacy groups, who said it was discriminatory against poor and minority voters.
"There are going to be thousands of indisputably registered and eligible voters in Ohio who are going to be disenfranchised solely because they made trivial, immaterial errors and omissions on forms," said attorney Subodh Chandra, who led a court challenge to the law for the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH), to Reuters.
Usage in the 2014 election
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said that the laws affected "only a small number of ballots" in the 2014 and 2015 elections. He said that, of the 128,676 provisional ballots cast, 16,942 contained errors and 620 were rejected. Of the 1.29 million absentee ballots cast, 1,712 were rejected.
According to Reuters, U.S. Election Assistance Commission records show nearly 3,000 absentee and provisional ballots were thrown away due to errors in 2014. More than half came from primarily Democratic counties: Cuyahoga, Summit, Lucas, Franklin and Hamilton.
The 2014 election also highlighted what types of errors are likely to get ballots thrown out. Reuters reports that, in Franklin County, five ballots were thrown out because the voter wrote their name in cursive. Another seven were thrown out because the voter mixed up two digits of their Social Security number; 256 more were rejected because the voter didn't write their birthday.
Numbers of rejected ballots are likely to swell with the presidential election's higher turnout rates.
The decision could also have more of an impact on this election following an October court ruling that said that people who were removed from the voter registration list for not casting a vote in multiple years would be eligible to cast a provisional ballot this election.
Laws requiring a perfect match to voter registration records are not equally enforced across the country, and there are even variations in how they are enforced across different counties.
Reuters reports that, while larger counties like Franklin rejected hundreds of ballots for minor errors, smaller, more Republican counties approved ballots without a valid street address, city or zip code and ballots that had a wrong or missing birthday or a misspelled name.
"If there is an opening and they can help the voter out, that's the way they will go," said Mary Fannin, director of the Adams County's Board of Elections, to Reuters.
Opponents of the law also allege that it is unfair to poor and minority voters. A statistical analysis by Dr. Jeffrey Timberlake used in NEOCH's court challenge found that there was "much stronger" evidence of absentee-ballot rejection among African American voters. A defense expert witness did not refute his report.
A spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said that the office is working to make the law more consistent and has told elections boards that mistakes in address and birthday on provisional ballots shouldn't be the sole basis for rejection if the voter can still be identified.
"We aren't trying to disallow their ballot, we are trying to make sure that every ballot that is cast was cast by an actual registered voter and you are cutting down on opportunities for shenanigans," said Ohio State Senator Bill Coley, lead sponsor of one of the bills.
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