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Voter training for BMV workers proposed

TIFFANY L. PARKS
Special to the Legal News

Published: July 30, 2013

Companion bills that would adjust requirements for the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles voter registration training program have been introduced into both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly.

Senate Bill 146, sponsored by Sen. Nina Turner, D-Cleveland, and House Bill 214, sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, would modify an existing requirement that the registrar of motor vehicles, in cooperation with the Ohio Secretary of State, provide a voter registration training program and materials for deputy registrars and their employees.

The proposal would also establish the Motor Voter Act study committee to examine Ohio’s compliance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

In a joint statement, Clyde and Turner said the secretary of state sent out thousands of registration updates to local boards of elections just days before the May 2013 primary.

They pegged the mailings as a “repeat of the situation that plagued the November 2012 general election.”

“Failing to send this information in a timely manner is a violation of both state and federal laws,” the statement read.

According to a bill analysis, the NVRA, also known as the Motor Voter Act, sets out several requirements for each state’s voter registration system with regard to federal elections.

Among other provisions, the NVRA requires states to allow citizens to register to vote or update their registrations by mail, in person at certain government agencies or when applying for or renewing a driver’s license.

“The NVRA also specifies procedures each state must use to maintain the accuracy of its statewide voter registration database and to remove the names of ineligible individuals from the rolls,” the analysis states.

Clyde said the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Motor Voter law last month.

“And we should do everything we can in Ohio to ensure our compliance with this important federal law,” she said.

In addition to investigating data-sharing delays, Turner said the proposed Motor Voter study committee would examine “why so few voters register at Ohio BMVs.”

Turner said around 16 percent of the state’s registrations at public agencies come through the BMV, compared to 80.5 percent in Pennsylvania and just more than 87 percent Michigan.

“The goal of the NVRA was to make it easier to register and cast a ballot, but this has not been the case in Ohio,” she said. “Taking a hard look at how the state is falling short is just common sense.”

Under the proposed legislation, all deputy registrars, and all employees of the registrar or of a deputy registrar, who interact with individuals applying for or renewing an Ohio driver’s license or identification card would be required to complete the bureau’s voter registration training program.

The bills also would require such individuals to complete the training program within three months of their employment and on an annual basis afterward.

Current deputy registrars and employees would have to complete the training program no later than one year after the bill’s requirements apply to them and then on an annual basis.

The bill analysis says that since deputy registrars are independent contractors instead of state employees, the bill would not alter the terms of current contracts between the registrar and a deputy registrar.

“The bill applies to a deputy registrar and that deputy registrar’s employees only after the deputy registrar enters into a new contract with the registrar after the bill’s effective date,” the analysis states.

Existing Ohio law requires the registrar, with the secretary of state’s cooperation, to provide a program and materials for initial and ongoing voter registration training for deputy registrars and their employees.

However, the statute does not specify when or how the registrar must conduct the training.

The proposed legislation calls for the Motor Voter study committee to include four members of the Senate and four members of the House.

Two members would be appointed by the Senate president and two would be chosen by the Senate minority leader.

In the House, the House speaker and House minority leader would each select two members.

The committee would be tasked with having a minimum of three public meetings.

It would also study and determine whether Ohio is in compliance with the NVRA, and if not, whether that lack of compliance jeopardizes Ohio’s federal election assistance funding; determine whether Ohio, through the Secretary of State, county election officials, the BMV, and deputy registrars, is meeting its obligation under federal and state law to offer voter registration to every person who engages in a transaction with the BMV or a deputy registrar; and determine whether the funding levels of the Ohio Department of Public Safety and the BMV are adequate to comply with the NVRA.

The committee would also have to compare the rates of voter registration at offices of the BMV and deputy registrars among and within counties in Ohio and among Ohio and other states.

The committee would also have to use resources such as census data, U.S. Election Assistance Commission reports, and other data to evaluate how Ohio compares with other states in terms of pro-active voter registration efforts, dedication of resources to voter registration, and compliance with the NVRA; and consult with and receive input from voters, voting rights advocates, election officials, the public safety department, the BMV and deputy registrars.

Also, the committee would develop recommendations for improving voter registration and carrying out the NVRA.

If the proposal is signed into law, the committee would have to offer its report no later than Oct. 1.

SB 146 has been assigned to the Senate Transportation and HB 214 has been referred to the House Policy and Legislative Oversight committee.

“We can and must to better for all Ohio voters,” Clyde said.

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