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Terra Goodnight · June 2, 2020

Republicans introduce, fast track, bill making voting harder

Last week, despite bipartisan consensus around improving access to safe options for voting, Ohio House Republicans pushed a measure that attempts to make sweeping changes to reduce participation in elections, regardless of the status of the pandemic, and attempts to tie the hands of Ohio officials to make changes in the event of a COVID-19 resurgence before the November election.

House Bill 680 was introduced by freshman Republican State Representative, Cindy Abrams. The bill would do three main things:

1. Tie the hands of the Governor & Health Director to alter Ohio’s election plans – If requested by the Governor more than 60 days prior to the election (in other words, if we knew by September 3 that COVID would be widespread enough to make in-person voting in November unsafe), a failsafe mail-only election would be triggered only if the legislature approved the plan within 3 days. If that failsafe was triggered, the mail-only election would allow for the dropping of ballots at only one dropbox location per county, prohibit the Secretary of State from mailing absentee ballot request forms to registered voters, also prohibit prepaying return postage on ballot request forms and ballots, and offers no way to vote provisionally in person if a voter’s ballot fails to arrive in time.

Regardless of whether the failsafe mail-only election were ever triggered (which seems unlikely the way the bill is written), HB680 would also:

2. Make Changes Limiting In-Person and Mail-in Voting in November 2020 – House Bill 680 shortens the amount of time in which you can request an absentee ballot, cutting off the distribution of ballots to anyone whose request is received less than 10 days before the November election.

House Bill 680 eliminates the three days of early voting on the final weekend before the election that have been offered, thanks to a court order, every year since 2012 ending early in-person voting on the Friday prior to the election, even for overseas and military voters.

HB680 prohibits the Secretary of State from sending out absentee ballot requests to all registered voters in November, 2020, something the legislature already approved and funded!

One thing not found in HB680 is a change supported by Republican Secretary of State, Frankl LaRose, and included in bipartisan Senate legislation (SB191) to allow voters to request an absentee ballot online. Rep. Abrams explained in her testimony that there’s just “too much risk of fraud”. It’s important to note that there is no evidence of widespread fraud via mail-in voting regardless of what medium is used to request a ballot.

3. Limit Spending of Federal Pandemic Funds and Prohibit Ballot Postage – HB680 also directs how the state expends federal pandemic funds to prepare for a safer November election. It outlines spending for things like sanitation, PPE, distancing and equipment to process mail in ballots. Most importantly, it prohibits the use of federal pandemic funds to provide prepaid return postage on ballots or request forms.

Taken together, these changes would mean that to vote by mail, a voter would have to:

  • Print out an absentee ballot request form (because no online option would be permitted), purchase a stamp and envelope, and return it to the board of election at least 10 days before the election.
  • Complete their ballot and apply postage (more stamps) and postmark it in time to be received by the board of elections by the day before Election Day

Several groups — including Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State — have offered ideas for improving vote-by-mail while still making it safe to vote in-person early or on election day. At this moment of uncertainty about COVID-19 pandemic, we join with many other voting rights advocates seeking to expand access for safely voting in this November’s general election.  This detructive bill undermines those efforts and puts Ohio on the wrong path.

What Next?

Opponents will have their chance to testify in committee on Wednesday (details below). The bill will be heard in the State and Local Government committee on Wednesday at 3pm in Statehouse Room 116. To testify, send a copy of your prepared remarks to 24 hours in advance of Wednesday’s hearing and let the staffer know if you wish to testify in person or only in writing.

It is urgent to share your concerns about how this election will be conducted with your elected representatives. You can do so by:

  1. Testifying (see above)
  2. Call your Representatives
  3. Write to your Representative

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Tagged in these Policy Areas: Democracy | Statehouse Update