What Ohio Republicans’ election reform bill would do

Yolanda Clark of Jefferson Twp. casts her ballot using a drop box at the Montgomery County Board of Elections Wednesday, Oct. 28.
Yolanda Clark of Jefferson Twp. casts her ballot using a drop box at the Montgomery County Board of Elections Wednesday, Oct. 28.

Credit: Josh Sweigart

Credit: Josh Sweigart

Local voting rights advocates, state reps, election officials disagree on merits of the bill

Several area State House Republicans support provisions in a new election reform bill and two local county election officials say some of the proposed changes would help their offices run a smoother election.

But local voting rights advocates and a Democratic state representative from Dayton have denounced the bill, House Bill 294, as including provisions that would needlessly make it harder to vote.

The Ohio Election Security and Modernization Act was introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives last week. The bill is a “mixed bag” of reforms, said Ellis Jacobs, an attorney with the Miami Valley Voter Protection Coalition. He said a few of the proposed changes expand voter access, like automatic voter registration through the BMV, but much of the bill would reduce voting options, like getting rid of early voting on Monday before Election Day.

ExploreOhio Republicans to introduce debated 12-point voting legislation: What it would do

State Rep. Phil Plummer, a Republican from Butler Twp. who represents part of northeast Dayton and parts of northern Montgomery County and who sits in the Government Oversight Committee in the House where the bill was introduced, said he supports the bill but would like to add some things to it.

“We want to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” Plummer said.

State Rep. Tom Young, R-Washington Twp. and State Rep. Brian Lampton, R-Beavercreek also said they support many parts of the bill.

The 174-page bill would make various changes to Ohio election law. Some of the proposals that voting rights advocates have raised concerns about include moving the deadline to request an absentee ballot from three days before the election to ten days before the election; limiting the use of ballot drop boxes to ten days before an election and only on the premises of the county board of elections office; and getting rid of in-person early voting on Monday before Election Day.

Major provisions of Ohio House Bill 294Current ProcedureProposed Rule Change
Absentee Ballot RequestsAbsentee ballot requests are made using paper forms submitted to county Board of Election offices. Requests could also be made online using two forms of identification (paper request forms only require one form of identification).
Ballot Request DeadlineDeadline to request an absentee ballot is noon the Saturday, three days, before Election Day.Deadline would be close of business 10 days before Election Day.
Early Voting Day Before ElectionEarly in-person voting is available the day before elections on Monday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at county boards of elections.There would be no in-person voting the day before elections and those hours would be added elsewhere in the early voting schedule.
Ballot Drop BoxesDuring the 2020 November election, ballot drop boxes were allowed for 30 days as an emergency measure during the pandemic. County Board of Elections could only provide a maximum of three secure outdoor drop boxes that must all be on the premesis of the office. Drop boxes would only be allowed for 10 days before an election until the close of polls on Election Day.
Voter RegistrationRegistering to vote is allowed at BMV locations by filling out paper formsAutomatic voter registration through the BMV.
Change of AddressVoters must update their voter registration when they move to a new address.Updating one's address with the BMV would also update one's voter registration
Voter ActivityN/ASigning a petition and business conducted with the BMV would count as voter activity, meaning the voter would not be removed from the rolls.
Prepaid Postage N/AElections officials would be prohibited from prepaying for postage on absentee ballots or requests unless the Ohio General Assembly approves it.
Voter IdentificationVoters can use a paper utility bill or bank statement as a form of identification at the polls.Voters could also use an electronic version of a utility bill or bank statement on their personal device like a cell phone as a form of identification.
Absentee ballot envelopesN/AAbsentee ballots not enclosed in the provided identification envelope when the ballot is delivered to the board will not be counted.
Youth Pollworkers17-year-olds can serve as pollworkers if they are seniors in high school.17-year-olds could serve as pollworkers regardless of grade level.

State Rep. Willis Blackshear Jr., a Democrat who represents much of Dayton and part of western Montgomery County and who worked at the Montgomery County Board of Elections previously, said this bill is an attack on Ohioans’ fundamental right to vote. He said this is part of a coordinated effort by Republicans nationwide to suppress voters.

As of mid-May, legislators have introduced 389 bills with provisions that would restrict voting in 48 states this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

“It’s a solution looking for a problem,” said Tom Roberts, vice president of the Dayton Unit NAACP and president of the Ohio Conference NAACP. “The NAACP will have problems with any legislation that takes away things that we already have … And we’ve always pushed for multiple ballot drop boxes in counties. (Limiting drop boxes) doesn’t help larger counties.”

Ohio House Republicans say some of these provisions are being requested by county election officials.

Montgomery County Board of Elections Director Jeff Rezabek and Miami County Board of Elections Director Laura Bruns, both Republicans, said the bill does address some of their concerns.

Greene County Board of Elections Director Llyn McCoy, a Democrat, did not return requests for comment.

Both Rezabek and Bruns said moving early voting hours from the Monday before Election Day frees up time for important tasks boards need to do to prepare for polls to open the next day.

In the November general election, about 5,340 people voted in-person on Monday before Election Day in Montgomery, Greene, Warren and Miami counties, according to absentee ballot reporting data on the state website. For comparison, 6,688 people voted on Saturday before Election Day in those counties.

ExploreArea voters wait hours in the cold on last day of record early voting

Rezabek and Bruns also said moving the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot sets up a more realistic timeline for the mail-in ballot process. They said three days is not enough time for a request to reach the Board of Elections by mail, the Board of Elections to process that request and mail back the ballot and the voter to fill out that ballot and mail it back to the Board of Elections.

However, Bruns said she would have recommended a deadline seven days before Election Day as opposed to the proposed ten days.

Last general election, Montgomery, Greene, Warren and Miami Counties Boards of Elections processed 4,559 absentee ballot requests within ten days of the election.

Bruns said she does not agree with limiting the use of drop boxes to a ten-day window.

“Voters last year did get used to being able to drop documents into that ballot box, be it absentee applications, voter registration documents and ballots,” she said.

Dayton Area League of Women Voters President Andy Cobb said that the last general election in Ohio ran very smoothly even despite a pandemic. Area Republicans echoed that sentiment and at the end of general election season last year, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Ohio “ran the most successful election we’ve ever had.” In a visit last month to the Montgomery County Board of Elections, LaRose said the election was secure and 99.98% accurate.

Cobb said, “it’s a shame that they feel they need to change things.”