Advocacy update: Ohio House voting bill

Advocacy update: Ohio House voting bill

Advocacy update: Ohio House voting bill 750 422 Episcopalians in Connection

Ohio HB 294 would enhance voting access in some ways while obstructing it in others

In the context of bills curtailing voter in many states, fierce partisan divisions are already flaring over Ohio’s voting bill HB 294, co-sponsored by Rep. Bill Seitz (R-30) and Rep. Sharon Ray (R-69). It’s crucial to point out that HB 294 includes some provisions that would significantly simplify voter registration and updates, reduce the likelihood that voters will be purged, and also make it easier to request an absentee ballot. Provisions that would inhibit voting include new, severe restrictions on drop boxes, eliminating early voting the day before the election, and shortening the window for requesting an absentee ballot.

The General Assembly is now on break.  I recommend that you consider both the positive and negative features of the bill and use the coming weeks to communicate about both to your representative (who you can find at this link: https://ohiohouse.gov/) and to the Chair of the House Government Oversight Committee, Rep. Shane Wilkin, at rep91@ohiohouse.gov.

A courteous, non-partisan and constructive approach could build bipartisan support to keep the parts that make voting easier while dropping those that restrict it.  A Capitol Journal article on June 4 suggests that the sponsors are open to some compromise on the bill, though Rep. Seitz threatened that if Democrats “are disingenuous in their opposition” to what he calls “a balanced bill…we might take it in a rightward direction and then give you something to really howl about, OK?”

The bill needs two more hearings in the House committee, one of which will be opponent testimony.  You could register as an “interested party” rather than opponent or proponent, if you want to comment on both pros and cons of the bill.  As Collin Marozzi of the ACLU-Ohio remarked in a late June briefing to the Ohio Council of Churches, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Pros and cons of HB 294, the “Ohio Election Security and Modernization Act:

On civil rights, fair and equal access to voting is a top priority for the Episcopal Church. Here’s how various parts of HB 294, as introduced, would either improve or inhibit voter participation, particularly for minority or low-income people.

Provisions making it easier to register or vote:
  • Reduces the risk of voters being purged for inactivity. Doing business at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), or signing a petition would count as voter activity. Under current law, hundreds of thousands of Ohio voters have been purged for missing two consecutive elections and not responding to a notice from the Secretary of State.
  • Simplifies voter registration and changes of address. Instead of filling out a paper registration or update, people eligible to vote would be able to let the BMV submit that information electronically on their behalf when renewing registrations or other documents.
  • Allows online applications for absentee ballots: currently, voters have to submit a paper form to their county Board of Elections, requiring a trip or a stamp. See below for concerns about the type of ID required in the bill..
  • Allows voters to show electronic versions of their bank statement or utility bills as proof of ID: this means people don’t have to print out and bring hard copies.
Provisions restricting voting:
  • Limiting drop boxes to one per county, and only allowing their use for 10 days preceding election: Until last year, Boards of Election were able to set their own policies on drop boxes, which voters used year-round to drop off voter registration forms, as well as absentee ballots during the several weeks of early voting. Limiting drop boxes to one per county prevents County Boards of Election from choosing solutions that enhance participation by people in large rural counties or densely-populated urban ones that have experienced extremely long lines on previous election days. Two talking points on this issue include:  1. County Boards of Elections include equal representation by both parties and should be given the home rule authority to agree on solutions that best meet the needs of their counties, and 2. Limiting access to ten days before the election cuts off the use of the boxes for voter registration forms and will cause confusion, as well as inhibiting early absentee voting.
  • Bans prepaid postage for returning absentee ballots without prior approval of the General Assembly: Last year the Ohio Legislature refused twice to allow prepaid postage, including the Secretary of State’s request to use his own budget. Having to pay for postage is logistically and economically harder for poor people with limits on money and time.
  • Eliminates early voting the Monday before the election without specifying where those hours will be added: 30,000 Ohioans voted on the Monday before the 2020 election. Understanding that Monday is a gargantuan work day for boards of election, advocates recommend that the bill add the hours cut from Monday to the weekend before the election.
  • Forms of ID for online absentee ballot request: HB 294 requests two forms of ID, one of which has to be a state photo ID or license. This creates an unnecessary hurdle for poor or elderly people who don’t have a license or state ID. Virtually everyone could provide their name, date of birth, address, and last four digits of their social security number to prove identity, so those would be more equitable verifications.
  • Prohibiting boards of election from contacting voters to cure their absentee ballot if it’s not sent in an ID envelope:This could disenfranchise eligible voters if they don’t understand the requirement to enclose their ballot in an ID envelope.
  • Moving the deadline for requesting absentee ballots to 10 days before the election: The Secretary of State (Republican Frank LaRose) has requested moving it to a week before, which many people support as practical, given the challenges of on-time mail delivery.

Advocacy briefings are compiled by Ariel Miller, a member of Ascension & Holy Trinity, Wyoming, and a member of the diocesan Becoming Beloved Community Leadership Team.