An Ohio Republican state lawmaker has introduced a bill to make sweeping changes to reduce participation in elections, regardless of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Rep. Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison) introduced House Bill 680, which would do three main things, according to Innovation Ohio, a policy think tank:
1. Ties the hands of the Governor and Health Director to alter Ohio’s election plans
Abrams’ bill would require the governor and state health director to submit a request to the state legislature 60 days in advance of an election to recommend the contingency plan be used.
Under such a plan, in-person polling places would be closed and Ohioans would vote absentee like they did this past spring.
If that were to occur, the mail-only election would allow for the dropping of ballots at only one dropbox location per county. House Bill 680 would also prohibit the Secretary of State from mailing absentee ballot request forms to registered voters, prohibit prepaying return postage on ballot request forms and ballots, and offer no way to vote provisionally in-person if a voter’s ballot fails to arrive in time.
2. Make changes limiting in-person and mail-in voting in November 2020
House Bill 680 shortens the amount of time in which Ohioans can request an absentee ballot. The bill also cuts off the distribution of ballots to anyone whose request is received less than 10 days before the November election.
The bill would also eliminate the three days of early voting on the final weekend before the election that have been offered every year since 2012 due to a court order, even for overseas and military voters.
3. Limit spending of federal pandemic funds and prohibit ballot postage
House Bill 680 also directs how the state expands federal pandemic funds to prepare for a safer November election, according to Innovation Ohio. It outlines spending for things like sanitation, personal protective equipment (PPE), distancing and equipment to process mail-in ballots.
Additionally, House Bill 680 prohibits the use of federal pandemic funds to provide prepaid return postage on ballots or request forms.
These changes would mean that to vote by mail, a voter would have to either:
- Print out an absentee ballot request form, because no online option would be permitted, purchase a stamp and envelope, and return it to the Board of Elections at least 10 days before the election.
- Complete their ballot and apply postage (more stamps) and postmark it in time to be received by the Board of Elections by the day before Election Day.
The bill, which is on the fast-track to committee hearings, was heard in the State and Local Government committee on Wednesday at 3 p.m.
In response, House Democrats proposed their own legislation, House Bill 687, crafted to mirror the plan of the Ohio Voter Rights Coalition. In contrast to Abrams’ bill, the Democrats want postage paid envelopes and for the state to mail ballots themselves to voters — thus skipping the need to request an absentee ballot.
The House Democrats’ plan would also allow online requests for absentee ballots, provide better funding to county Boards of Elections, allow for in-person voting on Election Day, and expand early in-person voting to more than one location.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has also proposed his own plan, which is similar to that of House Democrats but would not mail ballots directly without an absentee request step. Additionally, LaRose’s plan would not expand the number of ballot dropboxes to deliver absentee ballots, and would not expand the list of people who can turn in absentee ballots.