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New Elections Law Proposal Would Limit Drop Boxes, Early Voting And Most Mail-In Ballots

Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau

A second bill to overhaul Ohio’s election system has been proposed by some Republican state lawmakers, and this one is stricter than one introduced a few months ago that was deemed controversial by voting rights advocates. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler explains what this new proposal would do.

While some states that have seen major election overhaul bills proposed were red states that President Biden won, Ohio went to Donald Trump in 2020. But this bill takes aim at some of the biggest complaints that Republicans have had.

“It would eliminate drop boxes, drastically cut early voting, and put extreme limits on voting by mail.”

Jen Miller is the executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. She says the bill would eliminate secure ballot drop boxes at board of elections sites. It would cut the 28 day early voting period that’s been in place since 2014 to 13 days, and then later to six days. It would bring back the requirement eliminated with the expansion of early voting to provide an excuse to ask for a mail in ballot, such as illness or extended travel. And it would ban the Secretary of State from mailing out absentee ballot applications in even year general elections, which has been happening since 2012.

Rep. Scott Wiggam is among the six conservative Republicans joining on the leglislation behind sponsor Bill Dean. Wiggam says he believes strongly in shortening the early voting period.

“There's all sorts of information that's coming out that may change voters’ minds as an election approaches to that election day. I mean, what's the difference between 30 and 40 and 50? How about a year of early voting? How many days do you actually have to have in order to go vote?”

Wiggam says he’s also concerned about the security of ballot drop boxes, and says if mail-in voting is limited to those with certain excuses, there’s no reason for the Secretary of State to send out absentee ballot applications.

But the Secretary of State, Wiggam’s fellow Republican Frank LaRose, isn’t on board with these suggestions – and says the 2020 vote was the most successful election in Ohio history.

“We don't need to make massive changes to the way Ohio runs elections because we have what is in many ways the gold standard that every other state should aspire to. And so that's why I've not been interested in a massive overhaul of Ohio’s elections.”

LaRose supports an earlier bill sponsored by Republican Reps. Bill Seitz and Sharon Ray. It creates on an online ballot request system with two forms of ID, and would allow ballot dropboxes only at boards of elections to be used for 10 days before the election. It would shorten the window to request early ballots and bans in person voting the day before the election, but doesn’t dramatically shorten the early voting period – though Seitz has said his yes on the bill to approve early no fault absentee voting is the one vote he regrets in his time in the legislature.

Democrats have opposed the bill from Seitz and Ray as extreme. And while Wiggam says Ohio doesn’t have the problems he sees in other states, he says that bill doesn’t go far enough. In fact, he suggests other changes, including potentially doing what he calls a forensic audit on last year’s election.

“I acknowledge full well that the Secretary of State's job and getting reelected would be to say it's the best dang election in the whole entire United States. I get that. The fact of the matter is I think that he and the rest of Ohio could agree that we should ought to be always looking at the integrity of our election, and we shouldn't be afraid of doing that.”

LaRose notes Ohio’s voting machines aren’t connected to the internet, there’s a paper backup for all ballots cast and that there was an audit of the 2020 vote a few weeks after it – and there was no dispute over the results.

“As far as the representative questioning the integrity of our elections, I would encourage him to educate himself on this, because if he did that, what he would find is that Ohio runs honest elections that are trustworthy, administered in a bipartisan way.”

LaRose has said there were 117 cases of people either illegally registering to vote or voting illegally, which represents .0012% of the more than 8 million people who voted in Ohio last year. And Jen Miller with the League of Women Voters notes those instances of alleged voter fraud are often dismissed. But she says if the bill sponsored by Wiggam passes, it would mean many voters would be disenfranchised,  especially people of color, people with disabilities and military voters overseas.

“I think we would see long lines on Election Day and during early vote, we would have overburdened election officials who are implementing policies that are unnecessary but time consuming. And actually, the voter registration rules may run afoul of federal law.”

And it almost certainly would mean a lawsuit against the state by voting rights groups – which Wiggam says doesn’t worry him.

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