Online Voter Registration Raises Concerns Of Disabled, ADA Expert

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Federal law requires all voting precincts to have at least one voting machine like this one that can provide an audio ballot for the vision-impaired.(Photo: Flickr)
Federal law requires all voting precincts to have at least one voting machine like this one that can provide an audio ballot for the vision-impaired.(Photo: Flickr)

This year, about 106,000 Ohioans changed their voter registration information online.

Marion Parker was not one of them.

The Oberlin resident is blind and doesn’t have a driver’s license, one of the requirements for using the new online system.

“If anybody needs to be able to change their voter registration, it’s people who a.) don’t leave their house because they can’t, or people who b.) just can’t go to the board of elections office in their local area to change their voter’s address.”

State law lets people register or change their registration in person or by mail use their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number.

The Web site requires both.

Parker couldn’t understand why the database accepted driver’s license numbers but not state ID numbers.

It ticked me off pretty bad. I was like ‘what do you mean driver’s licenses only?

Matt McClellan is a spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.

“We wanted to air on the side of making sure this system was secure, as well as accessible,” McClellan says.

That’s why we require the four pieces of information: the last name, the driver’s license number, the last four of their Social Security, as well as the date of birth.

Voter databases have a history of being compromised. Two years ago a team from the University of Michigan hacked into a new online voting system in Washington, D.C. to prove it was vulnerable.

The new Ohio system may offer additional security, but it’s probably illegal, says Ruth Colker, a law professor at Ohio State University who specializes in disability law.

Colker says the Americans with Disabilities Act bars governments from offering fewer or lesser services for the disabled.

“So the question here would be ‘why did they pick a way to vote that disparately excludes people with visual impairment? Did they have a really strong reason for having to do it in this way?’”

In her legal opinion?

The easy answer is, well, they could have said to them ‘give us either your driver’s license number or the number on your state-issued ID.’

“They allowed them to use that state-issued ID to register to vote, to do all sorts of other things when they engage in in-person voting and identifying themselves. Why is it in this instance that alternative form of identification would not have been available to the state to meet their security interests?”

So we went back to Matt McClellan with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Reporter: “Why will a state ID not work, but a driver’s license will?”

McClellen: “Well, under the law, when a person registers to vote, a driver’s license is one of the requirements. We have that in the system.”

A driver’s license is not a requirement for anyone registering in person or by mail, just an option. Still, Marion Parker says for the sake of proving his identity, a state-issued picture ID should be just as good as a license.

The people who put it out, the people who I had to go to get this ID say there’s no difference except for that driving privilege. And I have to tend to believe them more than the people who are building a new Web site.

And, Parker says, when a person switches a state ID to a driver’s license or vice versa, the number on their ID stays the same. The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles confirms that is the practice.

Comments
  • http://www.facebook.com/roblimo Robin Miller

    Blind people are mostly part of the 47%, so we don’t want to make it easy for them to vote.

    Elect Romney/Ryan/Norquist/Satan!