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Ohio lawmakers are considering major changes in the way Ohioans vote in the future

voters__credit_dan_konik_.jpg
Dan Konik
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Ohio lawmakers are debating a couple of bills to change election laws, including a potential adjustment to the early voting schedule and a voter photo identification requirement.

Majority Republicans in the Ohio Legislature have long wanted some of the provisions in the legislation being considered but Democrats are against many of the proposals because they said it would disenfranchise Ohio voters.

Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) is sponsoring a bill that he said "does about 15 different things."

For starters, he said it would take three practices currently being used by boards of elections under a directive by Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, and put them into law.

“We’re codifying directives that can be abrogated, amended or repealed by this or any future secretary of state," Seitz said.

Seitz said that includes things like requiring a post-election audit, requiring processing of the absentee ballots along with the Election Day ballots, and providing for online application for a ballot.

It eliminates the Monday before Election Day for in-person early voting, something local elections officials have said is difficult for them to administer when they are trying to prepare for precinct elections the very next day.

It also moves the deadline for applying for absentee ballots out to seven days before an election instead of the current three-day window.

"It is a physical and mathematical impossibility for you to mail-in your request three days before an election, get the ballot back mailed to you and then mail it back all in three days. The mail doesn't work that way," Seitz said.

Seitz said his bill would also allow county boards of elections to have one drop box on their facilities, a practice that was used temporarily during the pandemic.

He said the bill would also require the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to designate licenses of non-U.S. citizens with an "NC" so those cards cannot be used for voting. He said that would make those cards comply with the issue voters passed at the ballot box last month that prevents non-citizens from voting in elections.

Seitz's bill is also being used as the vehicle for some previous standalone bills including one that allows county boards of elections to purchase ballots from out-of-state vendors and another that restricts the ability of local and political subdivisions from putting issues on the August ballot.

Over in the Ohio Senate, a different elections bill, HB458, would prohibit August elections. The bill has had another provision added to it — a requirement that voters produce a driver's license or state issued photo ID card when voting.

"Voters must bring photo identification to the polls in order to verify identity. Voters who do not provide photo identification will still be able to vote by casting a provisional ballot," according to language added to the bill on Tuesday.

Opponents of photo ID requirements, like Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) said it could disenfranchise voters.

"The concerns that we and other voting rights advocates have always had with photo ID is that it can be extremely difficult, particularly the address requirements, for students, college students, young adults or individuals that may have to move frequently due to unstable housing," Russo said.

Russo said the photo ID requirement can also be problematic for people who change their name because of marital status if the name on their license doesn't match the name in the poll book.

Russo said many of the changes being pushed through in this GOP legislation are not necessary and she called the proposed voter changes an “anti-voter” bill.

“This anti-voter bill sets up needless and deliberate barriers for Ohioans by restricting where, when, and how we vote," Russo said.

For his part, Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said a photo ID requirement would not be a problem for most people. He said he's not against changes in voting law that would increase election integrity.

"The goal should be to make it easy for people but also to make it so you can't cheat and make it a good system," DeWine said.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.