Activists from the Ohio Democratic Party, NAACP and voters’ rights groups stopped people in Fountain Square Friday afternoon to ask: Did they know that a bill moving through the state legislature could change the way all Ohioans vote?
“Very few people know about House Bill 294,” said organizer Lucy Crane. “That’s why we’re here. We’re trying to educate people about what it is.”
House Bill 294 isn’t an attention-grabbing title, but the bill — which is co-sponsored by Cincinnati Republican Rep. Bill Seitz — would limit early and absentee voting close to Election Day, requiring those voters to place their votes within a narrower window of time in order to be counted.
If passed, House Bill 294 would require absentee ballots to be mailed 10 days before an election — not three, as is currently the law. Boards of elections would eliminate their early voting hours on the Monday before Election Day.
Dropping off an absentee ballot in a dropbox, which is currently an option for nearly a month leading up to an election, would only be allowed in the 10 days before Election Day.
Seitz said it’s meant to make things easier for election workers, who dealt with a larger-than-ever number of early and absentee votes during the 2020 election, and lessen their workload on the day before an election.
“They have to produce poll books for Election Day, which starts in Ohio at 6:30 in the morning,” Seitz said. “And the only names that may appear in those poll books are names of people who have not previously voted. So if we're allowing a herd of people to come in on the Monday before election and cast their ballots, we are delaying the prep of the poll books.”
But NAACP president Joe Mallory, who once led the Hamilton County Board of Elections, was in Fountain Square Friday as a protester.
He said narrowing the window of time in which people can cast early votes will exclude some voters, and he doesn’t believe that the current rules are too much for election workers to handle.
“I was there almost 20 years, and we never had a problem meeting the demands of an election,” Mallory said. “If they're going to take away one day (of early voting), they need to give us another day. … You have people who are voting absentee, you have overseas citizens, you have college students, you have people who are incarcerated. People who are in nursing homes.”