Voting changes a balancing act PDF Print E-mail
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Staff Writer   
Tuesday, 01 April 2014 10:21
File photo. People are seen voting at Bowling Green City Park. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
For Bowling Green State University scholars Richard Anderson and Michael Doherty, making the right decision about changing voting rules comes down to the numbers.
Anderson, assistant professor of psychology, and Doherty, professor emeritus in psychology, question whether Secretary of State John Husted and the legislators who backed recent changes in early voting and absentee voting had the numbers to justify the changes.
"My concern as a citizen is the democratic process ...  is being subverted in a number of ways," Doherty said. "One of those ways is by carefully changing voting requirements ... so your party gets the upper hand."
Both major political parties are guilty of this, he said.
"Most of the new changes look reasonable on the face," Anderson said, until the background is considered.
In Ohio, those changes were reducing the time for early voting and taking away local county boards of elections' ability to mail absentee ballots to all voters.
Now signatures are being gathered for a so-called Ohio Voters Bill of Rights that would establish more open election procedures including online registration.
Earlier this year as the voting changes were making their way through the legislature, Doherty and Anderson wrote an informal paper on "Voter Fraud vs. Voter Suppression" looking not only at the Ohio proposals but those elsewhere. (Click here to download)
The paper applies what scholars have learned about decision making in fields such as medicine and law to the ethics of changing voting rules. They balance the error of letting some people who are ineligible to vote cast a ballot against the danger of disenfranchising those who have a right to vote but are denied by stricter rules.
"What should the value trade-offs be with regard to cheating people out of the right to vote vs. people voting fraudulently?" they write.
"We need to know what two kinds of errors could be made," Doherty said in a recent interview.
And the trade-off here, Anderson said, is not one case of fraud balanced against one disenfranchised voters, rather one case of fraud against tens of thousands of disenfranchised voters.
And some changes, such as adjustments in voting hours, "disproportionately affect minority voters," Doherty said.
In a recent email, State Sen. Randy Gardner, who supported the changes, spelled out his reasoning: "Ohio has some of the strongest, most accessible voting laws in the nation. I'm opposed to making it difficult for people to vote. That's why I've voted to provide that Ohioans have more than 600 hours to vote through a variety of ways, including in-person voting, absentee voting for 30 days for any reason with absentee applications mailed to every voting household in Ohio. On top of all of that, Ohioans have 13 hours to vote on election day."
His email statement continued: "Most of these changes were recommendations from the organization representing the bipartisan local boards of election in Ohio - 176 Democratic party members and 176 Republican members.
"I do not believe whether or not the government sends someone an absentee ballot request should be based on how large the county budget is or how wealthy the county is. Citizens should have equal access to voting to every extent possible."
Anderson and Doherty contend crafting a law that at once assures everyone who is eligible can cast a ballot while blocking all fraudulent voters could not "be framed by ordinary mortals."
Invariably, making voting more accessible would make fraud more likely. And the opposite is true as well.
Still they come down strongly on more accessibility. In American law, they write, "the conviction of innocent people" is considered "a far more serious error than letting some guilty people being freed."
The conclude: "We believe that current efforts to change voting requirements are profoundly contrary to American values."
If the Ohio Voters Bill of Rights makes it to the November ballot it will be up the voters to strike the right balance.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 April 2014 11:35

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