Republicans and Democrats at the Statehouse are battling over bills that could change laws covering voting.
The fight is related to next year's elections. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports.
All five statewide executive offices are on the ballot next year – governor, attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer, along with the entire Ohio House and half the Ohio Senate. Plus there could be several important ballot issues. So naturally proposed legislation is coming forward on voting. Republican Sen. Bill Coley of Cincinnati has pushed a bill that would allow absentee ballot applications to be sent out to all voters so they can vote early in presidential and gubernatorial contests. But it would allow only the Secretary of State to do that, not individual boards of elections.
“I think the whole purpose here was to set up a common set of rules that are enforced across the state uniformly and really bring some consistency across the state that is dictated by the General Assembly and not the courts.”
Democratic Sen. Nina Turner of Cleveland is running for Secretary of State next year, and says there’s an important thing to note in that bill.
“Only if the General Assembly appropriates the dollars will that happen. Whereas we have right now, in terms of having the local control that’s counties in this state can determine whether or not they need to mail those out. Uniformity may sound good, but in larger counties, like Cuyahoga, might not have the same needs as a Butler County.”
Coley and Turner don’t agree on his bill – and nor do they see eye-to-eye on a proposal in the Senate that would shorten the early voting window from 35 days to 29 days. Turner says Ohio should be proud to have one of the longest early voting periods in the nation, but Coley says starting absentee voting more than a month from election day is a problem.
Coley: “I believe early voting started the morning of the first debate. So there were many Ohioans who voted before the first presidential debate in the last election. I don’t know that not giving a voter, of course a voter has an opportunity to wait. But to almost embrace a policy whereby people will be voting before the first time they even see the two candidates head-to-head, I just don’t know that that’s a good policy for the state of Ohio.”
Turner: “But it’s a choice. It’s a choice. The voter doesn’t have to, but it’s certainly a choice that they have. We have got to stop running elections for the convenience of government. And if you really look at a lot of these bills, they are for the convenience of government and not necessarily for the convenience of the voter.”
And once again, there’s talk of legislation to require voters to show photo ID. Coley says it’s about voter fraud – though the Secretary of State’s research has shown that out of 5.6 million votes cast last year, only 625 ballots showed irregularities, and only 13 were turned over to prosecutors.
“I wouldn’t consider 13 crimes not a problem in the state of Ohio. And by turning those over to law enforcement and by vigorously enforcing our laws, I think we will discourage anyone from trying to do that in the state of Ohio.”
Turner says the state’s own research shows that’s less than one percent of one percent, which is hardly a reason to potentially disenfranchise up to 20% of the population that doesn’t have photo ID.
“The Brennan Center says you have a greater likelihood of being struck by lightning than you do, for somebody to commit in-person voter fraud. The bottom line is that it is a red herring. It is meant to scare people about the process of elections integrity.
Another voting-related issue relates to early voting on the last weekend before the election. Last year, a lawsuit from the Obama campaign against the order to shut down by Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted opened up early voting centers on that final weekend, and it’s likely that if there’s nothing in state law to address that, legal action could happen again next year.