Critics of Ohio’s new voter ID law say it puts up obstacles to Ohioans voting in response to a nearly non-existent problem. Supporters say it protects the integrity of Ohio’s elections.
Local election officials say it doesn’t change anything for the vast majority of local voters, and the biggest concern — which this article will attempt to address — is confusion.
The deadline to register to vote in Ohio’s May 4 election is April 3, with early voting beginning on April 4.
The new law, which Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law in January, will take effect in April during the first week of early voting. It will require voters to prove their identity with photo identification when casting a ballot in-person. The law also changes the timeline in which absentee voters can mail their ballots.
“The focus of voter ID law was that documents had to have your name and current address,” said Ohio Association of Election Officials President Sherry Poland. “With this new law, the General Assembly moved away from proving where you live to proving who you are.”
Election board directors from Montgomery, Clark, Hamilton, Champaign, Butler and Warren counties confirmed that between roughly 95-99% of people voting in-person, whether it be on Election Day or during in-person early voting, use a driver’s license or state-issued ID card to confirm their residency.
For them, nothing will change.
One group who will be most affected are those used to using other documents such as utility bills, bank statements, paychecks or other government-issued documents — such as county-issued veteran ID cards — that list a person’s name and address. Those people will need to get and bring an Ohio drivers license, state ID, military ID or passport to vote in person.
“Although it may not be the biggest concern of voters, it still will affect the minority of the population that uses utility bills and other documents when they vote,” said Warren County Board of Elections Director Brian Sleeth.
Greene County Board of Elections Deputy Director Llyn McCoy said the vast majority of voters there use IDs to vote that are compliant with the new law, though with five colleges and universities in the county they have a lot of students who used things like dormitory bills or other records to prove residency.
Those students will need to either bring an ID, or vote absentee.
Absentee voting changes
It’s important to note that Ohioans can still cast a ballot without a photo ID, they just have to vote absentee. You can both register to vote and vote by mail using only the last four digits of your Social Security number.
People voting by mail need to return their ballots as soon as they can. The new law reduces the window when elections boards can accept mailed ballots from the tenth day after an election to the fourth day.
Sleeth noted the cuts to the mail-in voting timeline could negatively impact people serving in the military or families with strict work schedules, groups who heavily depend on absentee voting to participate in elections.
“That return period has been dramatically cut,” said Sleeth, who is immediate past president of the OAEO.
Other notable changes under the law:
- The law also requires the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to issue state ID cards to Ohioans 17 and older who request them at no charge.
- The timeline for early, in-person voting is changing. The Monday before election day, for example, was removed from the early voting calendar. Hours lost on that day were distributed throughout the week before it.
- The number of drop-off boxes for absentee ballots are limited to one per county.
- Absentee ballots must also now be requested a full week before Election Day, as opposed to the previous Saturday by noon.
- Curbside voting is now limited to Ohio voters who cannot physically enter their polling location.
- August special elections were eliminated.
Montgomery County Board of Elections Director Jeff Rezabek said the introduction of passports as an acceptable form of identification may help bridge the gap for people who lack a driver’s license. The issuing of state ID cards for free will also prove helpful to the 1-2% of voters in his county who historically use alternative forms of ID at the polls.
“We think passports, state IDs will help the rest of the community,” he said.
Free IDs not available yet
Ohio’s free state ID cards will not be distributed by the BMV to interested people until April 7, according to an Ohio Secretary of State’s Office spokesperson. This comes days after the Ohio voter registration deadline and the start of early voting.
Because new state-issued ID cards are mailed to their recipients, the temporary document given to an Ohioan by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles that confirms a card was issued will also be accepted at polling locations, according to Poland. She also serves as the director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections.
The Ohio BMV has already witnessed an uptick in people seeking state ID cards, with more than 340,000 issued in 2021 compared to roughly 250,000 in 2019. In order to obtain a state ID card, applicants must provide proof of their full legal name, date of birth, social security number, citizenship and Ohio street address, according to a BMV spokesperson.
Provisional ballot changes
Those who lack required identification can cast a provisional ballot at their polling location on Election Day.
“We don’t turn away people at the polls,” said Clark County Board of Elections Director Jason Baker. “And we would never deny someone their right to vote provisionally.”
But anyone voting by provisional ballot will have only four days to show their county board of election office a driver’s license, state ID card, military ID or U.S. passport to prove their identity, eliminating the ability to provide the last four digits of their Social Security number.
Voters with disabilities
Curbside voting is now limited to Ohio voters who cannot physically enter their polling location or who have a physical disability.
The ACLU of Ohio in a letter last month asked Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office to clarify HB 458 for Ohio voters with disabilities.
“Curbside voting should be available to anyone who faces difficulty or danger voting within the polling place because of a disability on the day in question,” their letter stated.
ACLU of Ohio added in its letter that the process of obtaining photo identification can be burdensome for voters with disabilities, who may have difficulties in traveling to identification-issuing offices. The group is asking that the law permit voters with disabilities who lack the proper photo ID to provide an affidavit attesting to their identity, a modification already extended to voters who have religious objections.
“These cumbersome hurdles present legal, ethical, and moral concerns about election integrity and accessibility in our state,” said Collin Marozzi, deputy policy director for the ACLU of Ohio. “It was irresponsible of the Ohio General Assembly to push through such vast and unnecessary changes to our voting laws without serious consideration and accommodation for voters with a disability.”
Voter fraud, suppression debate
Republican lawmakers sponsored the bill, citing concerns with voter fraud.
“Election integrity is a significant concern to Americans on both sides of the aisle across the country,” DeWine said in a statement after signing HB 458. “At the same time, I have long believed that Ohio does a good job administering elections, as we have provided ample opportunities to cast votes while avoiding the problems we have seen in recent federal elections in other states.”
Total possible nationwide voter fraud in the 2020 election was roughly 0.0005%, the Associated Press reported.
LaRose in October of 2021 said his office forwarded more than 70 reports of people voting twice in 2020 Ohio general election to the attorney general’s office. Nearly 6 million Ohioans voted during that election, according to the secretary of state’s office.
The Ohio Democratic Party before the bill passed called the legislation “a direct assault” on democracy.
“Republican politicians are making it harder to vote,” Ohio Democratic Party Chair Elizabeth Waters said. “Even though Republican politicians have admitted that voter fraud is virtually non-existent, they want to consolidate power and keep changing the rules.”
The day the bill was signed, LaRose said: “Ohioans are clearly supportive of strict photo ID for voting and we have found a common-sense way to make it happen that ensures voters are not disenfranchised.
“No piece of legislation is a silver-bullet solution, but we are once again showing Ohioans that we take their concerns seriously and are dedicated to continuously improving our elections.”
Waters said the changes create additional obstacles for voters to participate in democracy.
“Ohio voters have enough to worry about, from taking care of their families to putting food on the table. They shouldn’t have to try to keep up with the obstacles some GOP politicians in Columbus continue to put up in order to obstruct Ohioans’ access to the ballot box,” she said.
The law technically doesn’t go into effect until April 7, which is days after early voting starts. To prevent confusion, LaRose issued a directive for all 88 election boards in the state to apply the new law’s rules on April 4.
Election board leaders in the region are concerned primarily with just that: voter confusion.
Butler County Board of Elections director Nicole Unzicker said her staff has been training over the past several weeks to learn about the changes to what ID is acceptable under the new law, what the election timeline looks like and more.
Voting season is often confusing for inexperienced voters. The changes in requirements could add another layer of confusion, but Unzicker said her staff will be joining the state awareness campaign to flag voters to the changes.
“We’re trying to focus on what is acceptable as opposed to what is not,” she said.
Sleeth said election boards across the state have been working to update necessary forms, print out new envelopes and put out messaging in regard to the changes in Ohio’s voting law.
“At this point, it feels like we’re scrambling,” he said.