CINCINNATI — Some state Republican lawmakers want to change the way Ohioans vote, and they're taking some heat for it.
Democrats say House Bill 294 -- the proposed 174-page voting law reform bill -- would corrupt the voting process.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought out more absentee and early voters, and this bill would change how parts of that process work.
Among about a dozen changes to current voting protocol, the bill would limit ballot dropbox locations to three per county and remove an absentee voter's ability to correct their ballot if it was submitted incorrectly.
Here's a full rundown of the proposed changes:
- Automates voter registration through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles
- Gives each county board of elections three dropboxes
- Requires boards of elections to test voting machines and prevents voters from being purged from the voter rolls if they took part in recent election activity, like signing a petition
- Requires voters to put their absentee ballot in the return envelope, not the ID envelope. If they mess that up, they cannot fix it.
- Allows anyone 17-years or older to take part in precinct volunteering, not just those who are seniors in high school
- Considers ballot harvesting election fraud
- Allows voters to request an absentee ballot online. They must show two forms of ID.
- Absentee voters must use driver's licenses or state ID numbers if they have them. If not, they can use Social Security numbers and other permissible forms of ID.
- Allows voters to use electronic versions of bank statements or utility bills instead of hard copies as a form of ID
- Requires voters to mail their absentee ballots 10 days before the election instead of three
- Lawmakers must authorize the secretary of state to pay for absentee ballot postage.
- Stops in-person absentee voting the Monday before Election Day but spreads those hours across other early voting days
"Republicans have control of the legislature to be able to really squeeze the vice on the voting process," said University of Cincinnati political science professor Dr. David Niven.
The legislation, introduced Thursday, calls for prohibiting off-site ballot drop boxes and eliminates a day of early voting and spreads those hours across the previous early voting days. Democrats criticize that. The bill also would add some conveniences to elections, including an online absentee ballot request system and automated voter registration.
Its sponsor, Republican state Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, says the sweeping overhaul isn't suppressive but incorporates changes advocated by both parties, as well as elections officials and voting rights advocates. It comes despite a smooth 2020 election.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose said boards of elections across the state asked for many of these changes.
“It creates online absentee ballot requests to make it easier to submit an absentee ballot. What it does is creates an automated voter registration process so we can get more people registered to vote and more accurately,” LaRose said.
Seitz declined to comment for this story.
State Rep. Catherine Ingram, D-Cincinnati, said, “We are reinventing ways to restrict (the vote) to make it seem like we're doing everything we can and we're just trying to eliminate fraud.”
Niven said the bill would "unquestionably (create) voter hurdles."
"It's unbalanced. It's making it harder to vote. In particular, it's making it hard to vote absentee. There's no way around that."