VOICES: Ohio elections are free and fair, but there is room for improvement

Ohioans can be proud that our elections are free and fair. If you cast your ballot in Montgomery or any other county in Ohio, you can be sure that your vote will be counted accurately along with those of all your fellow Ohioans. Election officials take justified pride in their bipartisan procedures and election administration and protection plans.

Our election system works well, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use lessons from past elections to make it even better.

At Common Cause Ohio, we believe we should always strive to protect and expand voting access so as to keep our democracy healthy, inclusive and fair. We support the following reforms to strengthen and modernize Ohio’s elections and make sure all voters have the freedom to vote in the way that works best for them.

First, we believe all voters will benefit if we make it convenient for all Ohioans — rural and urban — to access early and absentee voting. Have you seen pictures of the hours-long lines at the Board of Elections during early vote last fall? In one photo, the line wraps multiple times around the Board of Elections building. In another, a line of voters backs all the way down a highway exit and onto the highway itself. There were also shocking pictures of mile-long traffic jams with cars waiting to access a county’s single drop box for absentee ballots. Remember: long lines and traffic jams mean something is not working right and needs to be fixed. We can do better.

These failures undoubtedly prevented some Ohioans from casting a ballot — which is sad since the solution is simple and easy to implement: allow counties to have more than one early vote center and multiple secure drop boxes. These ideas are popular with county Board of Elections officials, standard practice in many other states, and would benefit all Ohioans — rural, urban and suburban. Currently, some rural Ohio voters have to drive over an hour to access an early vote center and dropbox. It’s no wonder a recent poll conducted by Secure Democracy found 75% of rural Ohio voters support allowing counties to provide more than one early voting location and 74% favor having multiple secure ballot drop off locations. We say, give the people what they want.

An aside: it’s striking that provisions in HB294, a recently introduced voting bill, would actually reduce access to early and absentee voting by barring use of drop boxes outside of ten days before an election, taking away the last day of early vote, and shortening the window to request an absentee ballot. One way for SURE not to solve a problem is by doubling down on the things that caused it in the first place. These aspects of HB 294 are motivated NOT by a desire to solve actual hiccups in Ohio’s voting system, but by a wish to curry favor with national politicians who know nothing about Ohio but are seeking to spread distrust in our elections. It’s a shame.

Another important improvement is to adopt Agency Verification & Registration, which would have eligible citizens automatically registered to vote when they interact with the state government in offices such as the BMV (unless they choose to opt-out). Automatic registration of this kind would help ensure that voter rolls are accurate and up to date, and that voters aren’t wrongly removed from the rolls or forced to vote provisionally if they have forgotten to update their address.

The third reform we think is both urgent and easy to achieve is to allow Online Absentee Ballot Requests. Ohioans can already register to vote online. It’s secure, simple, and eliminates the need for election officials to puzzle over handwritten registration forms. Allowing voters to submit online absentee ballot requests would mean greater accuracy and efficiency, and fewer errors and missed deadlines.

Casting a ballot should never be an obstacle course or endurance test. Improvements are possible, necessary, and easy to make. Our democracy is strongest when all can participate. We need to continue to push for reforms that ensure voters have the freedom to vote in the way that is safest and most convenient for them. Let’s do it!

Mia Lewis is Associate Director at Common Cause Ohio. She comes from an organizing and educational background, and is passionate about protecting and expanding the right to vote.

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