Lawmakers should arm military members with voting, custody rights

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 03:06 AM

Ohioans fighting overseas for America's freedoms are making considerable sacrifices already, so two laws under consideration at the Statehouse are much needed to secure their voting and child-custody rights.

The first bill would remove barriers to getting an absentee ballot and having it count. While members of the military are more likely to register to vote, they're far more likely to have their long-distance efforts thwarted.

The second bill would protect military parents from having custody arrangements altered while they are overseas. The law also aims to help deployed parents stay in touch with their children, accommodating visits during leaves and letting a close adult - a grandparent, for example - to fill in for them while away. It also would allow the military parent to participate in custody and visitation proceedings using electronic means.

The nation is now at war on three fronts. Ohio owes its sons and daughters these protections. Service members defending their countrymen's democratic rights should never be denied their own.

"Members of our military are being forced to choose between serving our nation and raising a family," said Rep. Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, who is sponsoring House Bill 121, the military custody-rights act.

The current law allows courts to take into consideration a parent's active military service when changing custody orders. The new law would forbid this.

While the welfare of the child always should be the top consideration, military parents deserve some protections. It's important for America's military to be able to focus on missions, undistracted by personal problems. This law, passed unanimously by the House on Tuesday, offers assurance that family bonds will be honored and preserved.

The second proposed law, House Bill 224, comes from bitter experience. In 2007, Mike Dovilla was deployed with the Navy to Iraq and wanted to vote in the local election.

The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections never got him an absentee ballot, having rejected his application as incomplete. By the time letters flew back and forth , the election was over.

He vowed if he was ever in a position to prevent this from happening to someone else, he would. Dovilla is now a Republican state representative from Berea, and he's teamed up with a Columbus Democrat who also knows the problem first-hand: Michael Stinziano, a past director of the Franklin County Board of Elections.

The House is considering other voting reforms, but Dovilla and Stinziano believe the military issues deserved their own bill, as problems are well-documented.

In 2010, Ohio had 1.1 million absentee voters. The return rate for voted ballots from members of the military was half that of the general public - 45 percent compared with 93 percent.

And military votes are less likely to be counted, either because the voted ballots arrive late or lack identifying information. In the 2008 presidential election, boards rejected one in 15 military ballots nationally, compared to one in 50 for other absentee voters.

Those abroad face slow mail, frequent changes in address and challenges meeting notarization or verification requirements.

Dovilla and Stinziano's bill, introduced Tuesday, would permit voters outside the United States to apply online for absentee ballots. Voters would be able to register at the same time, eliminating another delay.

Both laws appeal to common-sense and fairness.


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