CLEVELAND – Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted recently officially launched the Safe at Home initiative, a program that will allow survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking and other violent crimes to shield their personal information from public records when registering to vote.
“It is unacceptable that there are those in America who are forced to choose between their personal liberties and their personal safety,” Secretary Husted said. “We know there are those in Ohio who choose to not register to vote and participate in our democracy out of fear for their well-being, but today, we’re bringing that to an end.”
In October of 2015, Secretary Husted called on the legislature to establish the Safe at Home program in state law ahead of the 2016 Presidential Election, a call that resulted in the introduction of House Bill 359 and Senate Bill 222. The legislation authorizes the Secretary of State to shield the personal information of an individual if they are the survivor of certain violent crimes and believe their attacker may use public information in order to locate them.
The launch event, which was held at the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center in Cleveland, included the organization’s Chief Executive Officer, Linda Johanek, Nancy Neylon of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network and the sponsors of the legislative initiative, State Representative Mike Duffey (R–Worthington) and State Senator Sandra Williams (D–Cleveland).
“The terrible reality is that victims in Ohio cannot safely register to vote, or provide a personal address on government documents, without making it a public record,” said Representative Duffey. “In one case, a woman was tracked three times as she moved to avoid her abuser, but because her address wasn’t confidential, that abuser was able to find her and climb into her bedroom window at night carrying a gun. No person should have to choose between the right to vote and simply being safe at home. That is why I am proud to have sponsored House Bill 359 in partnership with Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. This legislation could not have been successful without his support.”
Ohio is the 39th state to establish a voter registration address confidentiality program. “Through passage of the address confidentiality law, Ohio has taken a huge step in protecting its vulnerable citizens who have been repeatedly victimized by criminal minded predators. As the joint sponsor of Senate Bill 222, the companion version of House Bill 359, I have full confidence that this small, but significant step towards ensuring justice will help protect victims and assist advocates,” said Senator Williams.
The address a voter uses on their voter registration is, by state law, a public record logged within their county’s voter rolls and reported to the Secretary of State for inclusion in the Statewide Voter Registration Database. Advocates report that individuals who have been subject to violent crimes will commonly choose to not register to vote for fear that their attacker may be able to locate and harm them.
“I am very pleased that Ohio is now able to offer this important protection to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. I appreciate the great collaborative relationships we had with the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office and the Ohio General Assembly in getting this legislation passed,” said Nancy Neylon, Executive Director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network.
Under the legislation, survivors are now able to apply to receive a separate address from their residential address, which they can provide to government agencies in order to prevent their place of residence from becoming a part of the public record. The Secretary of State’s Office will redirect a participant’s mail to their actual residential address on a daily basis.
To ensure program participants can easily cast a ballot without problems while maintaining the confidentiality of their address and personal information, each individual will be issued a unique identification number that can be used to request and cast a ballot. The proposed legislation establishes a clear procedure on whom at the Secretary of State’s Office and county boards of elections will be able to handle and process ballots cast by program participants to ensure their information is not compromised.
Once they’ve completed their application with a certified application assistant, the program participant may register to vote using their program participant identification number and their personal information will be omitted from the public-facing version of the Statewide Voter Registration Database.
“During my time as Ohio’s Secretary of State, I have heard stories from boards of elections and advocates about survivors who have been afraid to register to vote because they feared it would lead their attacker to their front door,” Secretary Husted added. “The Safe at Home program will finally allow these individuals to register to vote and vote without being fearful that their addresses will be compromised.”
There are 24 organizations across Ohio with application assistants on hand to begin helping individuals register with the Safe at Home program. The number of available locations is expected to grow in the coming months as additional organizations apply for certification with the Secretary of State. Those interested in meeting with an application assistant can go to www.SafeAtHomeOhio.com to find contact information for an assistant near them.
Information for this story was provided by the Secretary of State’s office.