Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly closed out 2022 by passing an election reform bill covering photo ID requirements, ballot drop boxes, and mail-in ballots.
In January, Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, signed the bill into law. The result is a substantial improvement to the reliability of the state’s elections as measured by The Heritage Foundation’s Election Integrity Scorecard. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
The new law improved Ohio’s score by 10 points over its 2022 total, equaling the single largest improvement by any state during the 2022 legislative cycle. Ohio now earns a total score of 76 out of 100, vaulting the state upward in the rankings from 17th to a tie for ninth with Texas.
To understand how Ohio improved, let’s look into some of the new law’s particulars.
Central to the reform was a focus on photo IDs. All Ohio voters casting their ballots in person must now provide a government-issued photo ID at their polling place. That enables poll workers to authenticate the identity of each person and ensure that only eligible voters are casting ballots.
Of course, many voters no longer show up on Election Day, preferring instead to vote by mail. Now, mail-in voting will be subject to the same voter-verification standards as in-person voting. Applicants for an absentee ballot must include a copy of their government-issued photo identification with their application to receive a mail-in ballot, along with other unique identifying information, such as the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number.
Previously, Ohio law had permitted voters to rely on several forms of non-photo IDs when applying to vote by mail, including utility bills and bank statements, which can be fabricated by anyone with a computer.
A photo ID requirement strikes many as an elementary precaution to protect the voting process. After all, “isn’t a photo ID required for, well, everything.” Try boarding a plane or buying a beer without one.
But this oft-cited observation does nothing to halt critics’ tedious conjecture that photo ID requirements are a form of voter suppression, despite evidence to the contrary from states such as Georgia, where voter turnout increased after photo ID laws were implemented.
While rarely convincing, the criticism is especially off the mark here. As Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose explained, “About 98% of Ohioans were already using either their driver license or state-issued photo ID card to vote in the 2022 election.”
Well, what about that remaining 2%? Isn’t that a large enough share to potentially swing a close election? Yes, which is why Ohio’s reform law includes a critical provision that makes a free government-issued photo ID available to anyone 17 years of age or older. (The ID bears a separate notation if the holder is a noncitizen.)
As one state representative explained, “Anyone who does not have a driver’s license in Ohio can get a photo ID at the [Bureau of Motor Vehicles]—free. Free, free, free” by virtue of the new law.
That may mollify some detractors, but others will no doubt maintain that election fraud is a non-issue and does not warrant even the minor burden imposed by Ohio’s law, and will ignore the documented instances of election fraud in Ohio and discount studies demonstrating that photo ID requirements do not diminish voter turnout.
Such persistent and misguided beliefs notwithstanding, protecting voter confidence remains, as it should, a valid state interest.
In 2005, former President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, and former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, co-authored an election reform report stating that our “electoral system cannot inspire public confidence if no safeguards exist to deter or detect fraud or to confirm the identity of voters.”
In 2008, the often-liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for a majority of the court, cited that commonsense conclusion as the justices upheld the constitutionality of Indiana’s then-new photo ID requirement.
In Ohio’s case, LaRose pointed to polls demonstrating diminishing voter confidence in elections, a problem that only state governments can address. In the same statement, he cited consistently high, bipartisan support for requiring a photo ID to vote.
The solution is not only a popular response to a legitimate public concern, it’s also a proportional one, given the minimal burden of obtaining a free photo ID.
Ohio made further efforts to balance election security with ample voting opportunities. The new law codifies the practice of using ballot drop boxes to collect ballots. Typically, adopting this COVID-19 pandemic-era novelty would have diminished the state’s election integrity score. But Ohio’s law demonstrates the practical measures states can adopt to minimize the risk of drop boxes becoming a weak link in the chain of ballot custody.
The law dictates that drop boxes must be limited to one per county, placed on county board of elections property, and kept under constant video surveillance. The law further provides that ballots shall be collected from the box at least once a day, but only by a bipartisan team of election officials, who must report the number of ballots collected each business day.
Given the numerous precautions, Ohio’s decision to normalize ballot drop boxes did not affect the state’s score. But efforts to temper new requirements with new opportunities can go too far. Such is the case with the new provision in Ohio’s law enabling the secretary of state to mail unsolicited absentee-ballot applications.
Mail-in ballots remain more vulnerable to fraud and manipulation than in-person voting at a designated polling place since they are the only type of ballot that is voted outside the supervision of election officials and outside the observation of poll watchers.
While they should be made available to voters who will be unable to vote in person on Election Day or during any early-voting period because they are disabled or for other valid reasons, Ohio should not be pushing even more voters toward mail-in voting.
All in all, Ohio’s Legislature, governor, and secretary of state deserve credit for the state’s election reform law. They knew that even modest reforms would prompt unfair criticism of their motives. But their achievement, a more secure election process, will long outlast the criticism.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal