Ohio is latest state to see GOP-backed voting law rewrite

Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio became the latest state Thursday where Republicans are proposing a significant rewrite of state election laws, an effort that comes despite sweeping GOP victories in the state last year and a smooth election.

Legislation introduced in the Ohio House calls for prohibiting placement of ballot drop boxes anywhere but at a local elections office, eliminating a day of early voting, shortening the window for requesting mail-in ballots and tightening voter ID requirements — all restrictions the House Democratic leader has criticized as “modern Jim Crow laws” targeted at disenfranchising voters of color.

The bill also would add some conveniences to elections, however, including an online absentee ballot request system long sought in the state and automated voter registration through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

The bill’s author and sponsor, Republican state Rep. Bill Seitz, has said the sweeping overhaul isn’t an effort to suppress voters, as has caught attention in Georgia and other states, but a thoughtful effort to incorporate changes long sought by Democrats, Republicans, election officials and voter advocates.

Still, it comes as a movement is afoot among legislators nationally to revisit state election laws in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that election fraud cost him the 2020 election.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican who has at times parted with his own party, has embraced key elements of Seitz’s bill that mirror proposals he has been pushing, in some cases for years. Those include the absentee ballot and voter registration changes.

LaRose also pushed an item moving the date to request absentee ballots from three days to 10 days before an election. Some Democrats have blasted the move as suppressive, although both election officials and voting rights advocates have acknowledged that the current deadline is so tight that it puts voters at risk of making their ballots late and ineligible to be counted.

Logistics also have been cited as the reason for eliminating voting on the Monday before an election.

The bill would make requesting an absentee ballot online more difficult than requesting a paper version is now, requiring two forms of ID rather than one. Seitz argues that the two-step authentication system he’s outlined is necessary for election security. His legislation also prevents the state from using public funds to pre-pay postage for paper absentee ballot applications or the ballots themselves without legislative approval. Last year, a legislative panel rejected LaRose’s personal appeal to use a fund within his office to pay such postage, asserting that approving the proposal was the legislature’s job.

Another provision calls for prioritizing the order of forms of identification that voters can present, preventing someone from using the last four digits of their social security number if they have been issued an Ohio driver’s license or state ID card.

The bill would also permanently prohibit placement of drive-up ballot drop boxes at locations other than county board of elections property, eliminating authority held by the secretary of state that was affirmed last year during a lengthy court battle.

The voting-law overhaul also calls for clarifying that the practice of ballot harvesting constitutes election fraud and making explicit that an absentee ballot received by an elections board that’s inside the absentee ballot return envelope but not inside the ID envelope cannot be cured. Curing it would allow the vote to be counted.

To address a longstanding concern of voting rights advocates, the measure would permanently expand the definition of the “recent voter activity” necessary to preclude someone from being purged from state voter rolls to include signing candidate or issue petitions.

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