CINCINNATI — COVID-19 concerns could mean more people will want to vote by mail to avoid crowds.
Critics say a new Republican-sponsored bill could make it more difficult for Ohioans to do that in November’s presidential election, while the bipartisan Ohio Association of Election Officials is in favor of the changes in dates called for in the bill.
Ohio House Bill 680 says every voter will get an application in the mail allowing them to mail their ballot if they want. But voters would have to pay for postage, and they’d have less time to send it in if the bill becomes law.
The chair of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, calls it a “voter suppression bill.” In a statement to media, Perez wrote: "Republicans know they can’t win on their disastrous agenda, so they’re trying to silence as many voters as possible to game the system in their favor."
That’s an accusation Professor Andrew Lewis of the University of Cincinnati, a voting expert, takes seriously.
“We do have problems with voter access,” Lewis said. “There are increasingly things put in the way preventing people, especially those that have less resources, from voting. And that’s problematic.”
The Hamilton County Board of Elections confirms that if you want to vote by mail in November this bill would cut the amount of time you have to send in the application by four days. With Election Day on Nov. 3, you’d have to mail it in by Oct. 27. Under current law, you'd have until Oct. 31.
If you can't do that, you’d have until Oct. 30 to turn in the application to your local board of elections office. Current law gives you until Oct. 31.
The chairman of Hamilton County Republican Party, Alex Triantafilou, said you can still vote early at the board of elections if you miss the deadline.
“The important right to vote is very much protected in this bill,” Triantafilou said.
He dismissed Perez’s criticism by saying: “The Democrats are playing political games."
The director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, Sherry Poland, said her group, the Ohio Association of Election Officials, recommended the date changes. Poland said the current dates do not allow enough time for voters to receive the ballot and return it before the deadline.
If you recall, during the Ohio Primary lawmakers changed voting dates due to the pandemic. Ohio House Bill 580 would prevent that from happening again.
"With the importance of a presidential election in a swing state, you know we can’t have shenanigans around that,” Triantafilou said.
The House passed the bill last Thursday. State senators could make changes to it before Election Day.
The Democratic National Committee is urging them to do just that.
“We believe our democracy works best when more people can participate, not fewer,” Perez wrote.
Lewis said online applications may be the answer during a pandemic.
“We’re in complicated times, in stressful times, right? People need to, I think, have the security that they can be able to vote in a way that’s convenient and safe for them,” Lewis said.