Skip to main content

Ohio House bill would streamline voter registration for in-state movers

Nick Evans, Ohio Capital Journal,

Think back to the last time you moved. From making sure the power is on at your new place to figuring out to clean up those scuff marks from moving the mattress down the stairs, the to-do list is long. Updating your voter registration was probably down near the bottom, if it made the list at all.

When voters do get around to updating their registration, Ohio’s current process often involves creating a brand-new registration. That means election officials have to reconcile the two — verifying the previous registration and the new one are the same person and then merging the old version with the new.

All of this happens behind the scenes, but it’s a convoluted time-consuming process. State Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, has introduced a bill that would make it easier to transfer registrations between counties, by encouraging voters to list their previous address when they register.

“Common Sense”

In a committee hearing last week to introduce his bill, Click described it as “a common sense piece of legislation designed to streamline the integrity of Ohio’s voter rolls through a citizen-initiated process.”

Right now, if an Ohio resident moves to another county and updates their voter registration, they’re supposed to fill out a separate form to cancel their previous registration. The thing is that almost never happens.

“And this is not likely due to ill intent, but really rather a lack of awareness,” Click explained. “As a result, many voters are inadvertently and unknowingly registered to vote in two locations at once.”

Because elections officials routinely check for duplicates, this isn’t a big deal. The dual registrations get flagged, the two counties verify the voter’s identity and then merge that registration into the current county.

While Click acknowledged there isn’t great data for how many registrations went through that process, about 12 percent of Ohio’s population moved within the state in 2022. “So if even a quarter of those people neglected to cancel their old voter registration,” Click said, “the number of potential duplicates could be in the 10s of 1000s.” His solution would allow voters to spur the process of merging their registration by listing their previous address.

“And so it would just be a quicker way,” Montgomery County Board of Elections Director Jeff Rezabek explained.

“We wouldn’t have to wait for the duplicate report to come out and all that,” he went on. “If you put that former address down, of where you’ve been registered, we can look that up fairly quickly.”

The stakes

By extending the voter registration form to include past addresses, Click’s measure allows voters to kill two birds with one stone and get the ball rolling immediately on updating voter files.

“Although the voter registration rolls are periodically reviewed for the purpose of flagging duplicate, inactive or deceased voters,” Click said, “HB 457 will streamline the process, saving time and money while improving accuracy.”

But even without legislative changes, Rezabek said, boards catch duplicates within about 30 days. Still, Rezabek argued the changes aren’t just cleaning up files for the sake of cleaning.

He noted up-to-date registrations are important for verifying petition signatures and to avoid provisional voting. As an example, he described a voter registered in a different county who recently moved to Montgomery County and would have to cast a provisional ballot.

“You’re not registered in Montgomery County, but you’re registered in another county,” Rezabek described. “You’re still OK to vote in Montgomery County as long as you’re voting at the polling location that’s related to the precinct in which they currently reside at.”

“With this change,” he continued, “we will then be able to speed up that process, and that voter won’t have to do provisional voting, and we won’t have to double and triple check it in the provisional process after election day.”

In his testimony, Click noted he got input on the legislation from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office and the Ohio Association of Election Officials. In a statement, Nazek Hapasha from the League of Women Voters of Ohio noted “although we have not yet been in discussion with elections officials about HB 457, the proposed legislation appears to offer a common sense update to our voter registration system that helps local boards of elections streamline voter registration processes, and saves time and money.”

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR. Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

Publisher's note: A free press is critical to having well-informed voters and citizens. While some news organizations opt for paid websites or costly paywalls, The Highland County Press has maintained a free newspaper and website for the last 25 years for our community. If you would like to contribute to this service, it would be greatly appreciated. Donations may be made to: The Highland County Press, P.O. Box 849, Hillsboro, Ohio 45133. Please include "for website" on the memo line.