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· November 13, 2013

Ohio legislature contemplates more changes to voting, voter registration

Since August, nine bills have been introduced in the General Assembly regarding voting procedures. Rather than facilitate the voting process, however, many of them will hinder the voting and voter registration for Ohioans. Three bills — SB 200, SB 205, and SB 216 — are currently moving quickly through the legislature and  address voter registration, absentee ballots, and provisional ballots. The Senate has already passed SB 200 and SB 205, and SB 216 is currently receiving hearings. Senate Bill 200, introduced by Senator Uecker, modifies the law governing the statewide registration database. The bill would allow the Secretary of State and other state agencies to share information in order to update the statewide voter registration database and would also allow the Secretary of State to establish agreements with other states to share information. These provisions raised concern in regards to the lack of protection for the information that would be shared without Ohioans’ knowledge. SB 200 does allow for online voter registration or online registration updates, which would more accurately ensure up-to-date voter information. Senate Bill 205, introduced by Senator Coley, revises the law concerning the mailing of absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications; it also clarifies that electors are responsible for completing their absentee ballot documents. The bill would allow the Secretary of State to send out absentee requests during any year, but only if the General Assembly chooses to provide funds for doing so. In addition, the bill prohibits a board of elections from pre-paying the return postage for any absentee ballot applications or any absentee ballots that it delivers to a voter, and the bill also establishes that a person’s right to vote can be challenged based on identification issues. While SB 205 did accept some amendments that would alleviate some of the initial issues (for example, allowing mailings of absentee requests during any year instead of just even-numbered years), overall, SB 205 will place the burden on voters to request and submit absentee ballot applications. Senate Bill 216, introduced by Senator Seitz, alters the law concerning provisional ballots and specifies permitted procedures for voting locations that serve more than one precinct. The bill would allow provisional ballots cast in the right polling location but the wrong precinct (due to a poll worker error) to be counted unless contested by the poll worker, but would not allow provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct in the wrong location to be counted. While SB 216 will allow for accepted provisional ballots with relevant registration information to count as voter registration for future elections, it would reduce the number of days after the election in which electors who voted provisionally can produce their identifications to the board of elections. Senate Bills 200, 205, and 216 are not the only bills that will hinder the voting process. Most of the other legislation concerning voting procedures establishes measures that will make the voting process more difficult for electors. It is noteworthy, because electors have a long-established right — not a privilege — to vote, but the majority of the introduced legislation signifies a shift away from universal voting rights. On October 15, Representative Clyde hosted a discussion in which national and Ohio election experts addressed the growing issues surrounding the implementation of the National Voter Registration Act in Ohio. These experts emphasized the fact that Ohio legislators should be taking steps to create more opportunities to vote rather than limiting them. In addition, a major issue that was discussed was online voter registration. While it is important to develop the registration process for electors without Internet access, online registration would be a critical improvement to the registration and update process. Providentially, Representative Stinziano has introduced House Bill 78, which would establish an online voter registration system. With the support of the Secretary of State, HB 78 is currently being heard in the House. With House Bill 78, Ohio election procedures can be brought to the 21st century. Hopefully, legislators can focus less on limiting our voting and registration procedures and instead, concentrate on updating our systems facilitating the voting process for all Ohioans. More information about other legislation concerning voting procedures can be found here: House Bill 240: Introduced by Representatives Adams and Becker, HB 240 eliminates the option of holding special elections in February and August. Special elections tend to feature local questions like tax levies. House Bill 250: Introduced by Representative Becker, HB 250 reduces the days for early voting. The first day for early voting would move from 35 days to 17 days prior to an election. House Bill 263: Introduced by Representative Becker, HB 263 limits and standardizes the times for early in-person voting throughout the state of Ohio. With HB 263, early voting sites would only be open Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 4:30pm. House Bill 266: Introduced by Representative Becker, HB 266 prohibits the mailing of unsolicited election forms and the prepayment of postage for the return of election forms. The bill also clarifies that a board of elections should be the entity responsible for sending and receiving absent voter’s ballot materials. Senate Bill 175: Introduced by Senator LaRose, SB 175 revises the law concerning voter registration and requests for absentee ballots. Among the changes in SB 175 are online voter registration and information sharing between state agencies in order to maintain the statewide voter registration database. Hana Strickland is a policy intern at Innovation Ohio.

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