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Government & Politics

Another Proposed Ohio Elections Bill Cuts Early Voting, Bans Ballot Drop Boxes and Most Mail Voting

line of in-person early voters in Columbus in 2020
Karen Kasler
/
Statehouse News Bureau
A line of in-person early voters waits to cast ballots outside the Franklin County Board of Elections in October 2020. The line moved alongside a ballot drop box that's been outside the office for several years.

A second bill to overhaul Ohio’s election system has been proposed by some Republican state lawmakers, and this one is stricter than one introduced a few months ago that was deemed controversial by voting rights advocates.

While some states that have seen major election overhaul bills proposed were red states that President Biden won, Ohio went to Donald Trump in 2020. But this bill takes aim at some of the biggest complaints that Republicans have had.

“It would eliminate drop boxes, drastically cut early voting, and put extreme limits on voting by mail," said Jen Miller, the executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

Miller said House Bill 387 would eliminate secure ballot drop boxes at board of elections sites. It would cut the 28-day early voting period that’s been in place since 2014 to 13 days and then later to six days. It would bring back the requirement eliminated with the expansion of early voting to provide an excuse to ask for a mail in ballot, such as illness or extended travel. And it would ban the Secretary of State from mailing out absentee ballot applications in even year general elections, which has been happening since 2012.

Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) is among the six conservative Republicans joining on the legislation behind sponsor Bill Dean (R-Xenia). Wiggam said he believes strongly in shortening the early voting period.

“There's all sorts of information that's coming out that may change voters’ minds as an election approaches to that election day," Wiggam said. "I mean, what's the difference between 30 and 40 and 50? How about a year of early voting? How many days do you actually have to have in order to go vote?”

Wiggam said he’s also concerned about the security of ballot drop boxes. And he said if mail-in voting is limited to those with certain excuses, there’s no reason for the Secretary of State to send out absentee ballot applications.

But the Secretary of State, Wiggam’s fellow Republican Frank LaRose, isn’t on board with these suggestions. LaRose has said the 2020 vote was the most secure election in Ohio history.

“We don't need to make massive changes to the way Ohio runs elections because we have what is in many ways the gold standard that every other state should aspire to," LaRose said. "And so that's why I've not been interested in a massive overhaul of Ohio’s elections.”

LaRose supports House Bill 294, sponsored by Republican Reps. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) and Sharon Ray (R-Medina).

It would create an online ballot request system with two forms of ID and would allow ballot drop boxes only at boards of elections to be used for 10 days before the election. It would shorten the window to request early ballots and bans in-person voting the day before the election, but doesn’t dramatically shorten the early voting period, though Seitz has said his yes on the bill to approve early no-fault absentee voting is the one vote he regrets in his time in the legislature.

Democrats have opposed the bill from Seitz and Ray as extreme.

And while Wiggam said Ohio doesn’t have the problems he sees in other states, he said House Bill 294 doesn’t go far enough. In fact, he suggests other changes, including potentially doing what he calls a "forensic audit" on last year’s election.

“I acknowledge full well that the Secretary of State's job and getting re-elected would be to say it's the best dang election in the whole entire United States. I get that," Wiggam said. "The fact of the matter is I think that he and the rest of Ohio could agree that we should ought to be always looking at the integrity of our election, and we shouldn't be afraid of doing that.”

LaRose noted Ohio’s voting machines aren’t connected to the internet. There's a paper backup for all ballots cast. And that there was an audit of the 2020 vote a few weeks after it, and there was no dispute over the results.

“As far as the representative questioning the integrity of our elections, I would encourage him to educate himself on this because if he did that, what he would find is that Ohio runs honest elections that are trustworthy, administered in a bipartisan way,” LaRose said.

LaRose has said there were 117 cases of people either illegally registering to vote or voting illegally, which represents .0012% of the more than 8 million people who were registered to vote in Ohio last year. And Jen Miller with the League of Women Voters notes those instances of alleged voter fraud are often dismissed.

But she said if House Bill 387 backed by Wiggam passes, it would mean many voters would be disenfranchised, especially people of color, people with disabilities and military voters overseas.

“I think we would see long lines on Election Day and during early vote, we would have overburdened election officials who are implementing policies that are unnecessary but time consuming. And actually, the voter registration rules may run afoul of federal law," Miller said.

And it almost certainly would mean a lawsuit against the state by voting rights groups, which Wiggam said doesn’t worry him.
Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.