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Tom Feran
By Tom Feran March 13, 2012

Kathleen Clyde says Ohio not in compliance with federal voter law

The non-partisan Pew Center on the States issued a report last month that the nation's voter registration rolls are plagued with problems. About one record in eight is inaccurate or invalid, the report said, and about 1.8 million registered voters are dead.

No evidence of voter fraud was found -- just record-keeping that is badly managed and in disarray.

State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat from Kent, raised a similar issue at a news conference focused on provisional voting. She pointed to flaws in maintaining Ohio's voter database as a prime reason for the state's high number of provisional ballots, one of the highest rates in the country.

Provisional ballots -- many of which go uncounted -- are used when there is a question about a voter's eligibility at a polling station, which happens most often because of a change of address.

The problem is partly the result of another one, she said:

"Ohio is not meeting its obligation to update voter registrations when voters change their address with the BMV."

Clyde wasn’t raising the issue as a policy matter. Rather, she said Ohio is not meeting a legal obligation. PolitiFact Ohio decided to take a look and asked Clyde to back up her statement.

She cited the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which is also known as the Motor Voter Act and NVRA.

Congress enacted it "to enhance voting opportunities for every American," according to the Justice Department. "The act has made it easier for all Americans to register to vote and to maintain their registration."

Among its provisions, the act requires states to keep voter registration lists accurate and current -- by, for example, identifying persons who have become ineligible due to having died or moved outside the jurisdiction.

It says that any change of address submitted for driver's license purposes must also serve as notification of an address change for voter registration purposes, unless the license-holder indicates specifically that the change of address is not for voter registration purposes.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission last year produced a report on the effects of the voting act on voter registration.

"It strongly suggests that Ohio is not meeting the requirements of federal law," Clyde said. "Ohio's rate of registrations and registration updates from BMV transactions is far lower than the national average -- 16.4 percent compared with 37.1 percent."

We confirmed those numbers in the EAC report.

But, Clyde added, "My statement was not completely based on this report, because this report merely suggests that Ohio is not in compliance."

Instead, she said, the statement was based on the proof that voter registration updating is not offered during online BMV transactions.

Our examination of the BMV's website, and specifically the "change of address" pages in online services, turned up no reference to voter records. So while an individual can use the website to submit a change in a driver’s address data, there is no mechanism for using that data as the NVRA-required notice of a change in the voter registration address.

And, the site offered no opt-out option, as the NVRA also requires.

We looked at the study of voter records from the Pew Center on the States. It notes that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted last summer requested better compliance with the voting act from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

"From 2007-2008," Husted said in his request, "only 9.6 percent of all driver license transactions resulted in a voter registration transaction. ... While driver license transactions increased, voter registration transactions fell to only 6.5 percent of all driver license transactions from 2009-2010."

We asked BMV for a response.

A spokeswoman said: "When customers change their address by calling in, email or via written forms, they have the option of choosing to have that information sent on to update their voter registration or choosing not to update their voter registration. Currently we don't have our online vehicle registration database, OPLATES, set up that way and are working to add the ‘opt in’ and ‘opt out’ options to that by July 1, 2012."

Our conclusions:

  • The BMV’s website, where annual vehicle registration can be done and address changes are noted,  does not now provide the updated information to voter registration records.

  • Regardless of what options may be offered during offline transactions, Ohio has a significantly lower rate of voter updates from BMV transactions than the national average. Despite an increase overall in transactions, the Ohio rate has declined.

  • The secretary of state, Ohio’s chief elections official, cited the low and declining rate in requesting a better level of compliance with the 1993 voting act.

Ohio, clearly in some cases, is using address updates to its driver license database to update voter registration addresses.

But considering that the state’s rate is less than half the national avearge, and that the option isn’t even available for online transactions, the BMV is falling short of compliance with the nearly 20-year-old Motor Voter Act.

On the Truth-O-Meter, we rate Clyde’s statement as True.

Our Sources

New York Times, "Voter Rolls Are Rife With Inaccuracies, Report Finds," Feb. 14, 2012

USA Today, "Pew study: 1 in 8 voter records flawed," Feb, 14, 2012

Pew Trusts, "Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient: Evidence That America’s Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade," Feb, 14, 2012

OhioCapitalBlog, "House Dems on Election Reform," Jan. 27, 2012

Emails from Rep. Kathleen Clyde, March 6 and 7, 2012

U.S. Justice Department, "About the National Voter Registration Act"

Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Online services

BMV Online, change of address pages

U.S. Election Assistance Commission, "Impact of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993," June 30, 2011

Email from Ohio BMV public information officer Linsey Bohrer, March 9, 2012

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

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Kathleen Clyde says Ohio not in compliance with federal voter law

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