COLUMBUS – Proposed changes to Ohio election law would eliminate voting on the day before Election Day, limit drop boxes and allow voters to request absentee ballots online.
The changes, which will soon be introduced as a bill by Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township and Rep. Sharon Ray, R-Wadsworth, would eliminate in-person voting on the Monday before Election Day so county election officials could prepare for Tuesday.
However, those hours of in-person voting could be reallocated to another day. The Ohio Association of Election Officials has been requesting the change.
The proposal would also limit drop boxes for mail-in ballots to 10 days before Election Day instead of the entire early voting period. Each county board of elections could have three receptacles on their premises.
Boards could have one drop boxfor the entire early voting period during a pandemic or emergency.
Ohio lawmakers approved the use of drop boxes during the COVID-19 pandemic when Ohio’s primary shifted to mail ballots rather than in-person voting. Several judges ruled that Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose was allowed to set rules on how drop boxes were used, but he deferred to lawmakers.
Another change would require Ohioans to request mail-in ballots 10 days before an election rather than three days before an election. High demand of the U.S. Postal Service during the COVID-19 pandemic delayed ballots and ultimately led some not to be counted.
“There is always room for improvement in safeguarding the integrity of election processes. After all, ‘the price of liberty is eternal vigilance,'” Seitz and Ray wrote in a request for co-sponsors on the bill. The language of the proposed legislation was not yet available.
Voter advocates have initial concerns about tinkering with the absentee ballot process.
“We’re concerned about how those changes could disproportionately affect seniors, people with disability, people of color, low-income voters and active duty military members overseas,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.
“We need more drop boxes not less,” she said. “It’s something that Ohio voters want.”
The proposal includes two priorities from LaRose, including creating a way to request absentee ballots online. Current law requires voters to fill out a paper request form.
To request a ballot online, Ohioans would need to provide two forms of identification, similar to the process of registering to vote online.
Another LaRose request was to allow Ohioans to register to vote through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. This would be different from automatic voter registration, which puts all adults age 18 and older on the voter rolls.
“The House is to be commended for its efforts to strengthen what is already proven to work in Ohio, particularly for its work to create a modernized voter registration system and a long-overdue, secure online absentee ballot request system,” LaRose spokesman Rob Nichols said. “We look forward to working closely with lawmakers to make certain Ohio remains a national model in both election security and voter access.”
Other proposed changes include:
- Preventing absentee ballots that are not returned in the ID envelope from being counted.
- Allowing the Ohio secretary of state to pay for postage to mail absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters. The Ohio secretary of state’s office couldn’t pay for postage for those ballots to be returned without legislative approval.
- Requiring absentee ballot voters to use drivers’ licenses and state identification cards as forms of identification first. If they don’t have those cards, they could use the last four digits of their Social Security number. Current law only requires those four digits.
- Allowing voters to use electronic versions of their bank statements or utility bills, instead of hard paper copies, as a form of identification.
- Putting into law that anyone who signs a petition for a candidate or issue is re-registered to vote and cannot be purged from the voter rolls.
- Requiring each board of elections have an elections administration plan and test each voting machine before each election.
- Allowing 17-year-olds to serve as precinct officers even if they aren’t seniors in high school.
- Clarifying that ballot harvesting, the practice of third-party groups collecting ballots for voters, is election fraud.
An early draft of the proposal was leaked by a progressive organization last week. That version would have required more forms of identification for in-person early voting and limited drop boxes to statewide emergencies.
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