The Ohio House was scheduled to vote today (Wednesday 5/11) on House Bill 194, GOP sponsored legislation that will take away voter’s rights and reduce the number of ballots counted. Maybe even the Republicans realized what a bad law this would make.
Some Democrats, including Reps. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent), Alicia Reese (D-Cincinnati), and Senator Charleta Tavares (D – Columbus) joined Professor Daniel P. Tokaji of The Ohio State University’s Election Law @ Moritz project for a news conference to explain why this bill, and a similar one in the Senate, would make voting in Ohio harder and more restrictive.
“If these changes become law, Ohio voters will have fewer opportunities to participate and exercising our constitutional right to vote will become harder,” said Rep. Clyde. “Regrettably, this bill will make it harder to vote, fewer votes will be counted and local boards of elections will be prohibited from making voting more accessible in their individual counties.”
The proposed changes that Democrats raised concerns over were provisions that severely limit the number of days that a person can vote at a designated polling location from 35 days to 5 ½ days; new requirements that make it more difficult to cast and count a provisional ballot; and changes that eliminate local control by county boards of elections.
“An elections law overhaul of this magnitude should have bipartisan input or it runs the risk of increased litigation at election time,” said Rep. Clyde. “Our hope was to have a thoughtful and deliberative process but that has not yet occurred.”
Decreasing in-person early voting will make it hard for voters to participate and additional changes will mean that fewer votes will be counted. These changes include throwing out votes because of incomplete voter information on the absentee ballot request and provisional ballot affirmation forms. The bill also needlessly prohibits poll workers from assisting voters to get them to the right voting location or to make sure that voter paperwork is filled out properly.
“The key question should be whether or not this bill increases participation, and unfortunately House Bill 194 falls well short,” Rep. Reece said. “Denying someone their right to vote because of a minor error on a form or because their ballot was cast in the right polling location but at the wrong precinct table is simply unconscionable.”
The proposed law does nothing to address poll worker error, despite numerous lawsuits and costly litigation. Democratic lawmakers believe that poll workers should be required to identify the voter’s correct precinct on the ballot envelope so that mistakes can be discovered and ballots can be counted.
“Provisions of this bill will upset the stability of our election system and make it more difficult for eligible citizens to vote and have their vote counted,” said Prof. Tokaji. “House Bill 194 will result in years of controversy, litigation and confusion for the state of Ohio, at a time when Ohio’s election system is functioning better than it did in 2004. The net effect of the bill would be to make our election system worse rather than better.”
The bill also imposes a “one-size-fits-all” approach for county boards of elections. This change will result in limitations that will prohibit county boards from mailing absentee ballot requests, setting their own hours for early voting and setting up satellite in-person voting locations that make voting easier and more accessible.