Decision removing hyphens from names in voter files made in 2015


By Andrew J. Tobias - cleveland.com (TNS)



COLUMBUS, Ohio — The decision to remove hyphens and other special characters from the names of Ohio voters dates back to 2015, during a previous administration, a spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Thursday.

The decision occurred under former secretary of state Jon Husted, a Republican who is now lieutenant governor. LaRose, a Republican, has continued the practice, issuing the same instruction in a 2019 manual for county boards of elections.

The move was meant to ensure data uniformity, given that voter records are compiled and maintained by 88 different county boards of election, spokesman Jon Keeling said in an email.

However, while Keeling didn’t address this, it differs from the practice at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which includes hyphens while maintaining records that frequently are used to verify voters’ identities.

“During our time in office, we are not aware of complaints or communication from a voter or county board of elections re: this preventing anyone from registering to vote,” Keeling said.

He added that LaRose has long called for the administration of voting records to be more centralized.

The issue came up recently after a Lorain County woman told cleveland.com that after moving, she received a notice from her local board of elections saying her registration didn’t match her name as kept by the state BMV.

The reason was her last name is hyphenated — Ohio elections officials are told to remove hyphens from names, while state BMV officials are not. The voter, who filled out a paper form with additional information, said she found the experience confusing and concerning.

Voter-rights advocates have said in other states that small discrepancies in names, like using a nickname instead of a full name, or using a hyphenated name instead of listing the names separately without a hyphen, could be used to challenge someone’s identity at the polls, or complicate their efforts to get an absentee ballot.

But two Democratic elections officials from Lorain and Cuyahoga counties said this week the issue as it exists in Ohio wouldn’t prevent anyone from casting a normal ballot on Election Day.

An official with the ACLU of Ohio, which has sued LaRose challenging the state’s method of verifying signatures on absentee ballot applications, said Thursday their investigation surrounding the lawsuit hadn’t turned up any instances of punctuation discrepancies causing issues for voters in Ohio.

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By Andrew J. Tobias

cleveland.com (TNS)

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