A majority of Ohio Controlling Board members are not convinced there is a need to make voting by mail more convenient by prepaying for postage this fall.
They made that determination Monday at a meeting held digitally because of COVID-19 safety protocols — a Zoom conference which began just 45 minutes after news broke that a Controlling Board member had tested positive for the virus.
That member, state Sen. Bob Peterson, R-Washington Court House, joined three other Republicans in voting no: Sen. Bill Coley of Liberty Twp., Rep. Scott Oeslager of North Canton and Rep. Shane Wilkin of Lynchburg.
The vote went 4-2, with two Democrats on the board voting to allow postage: Rep. Jack Cera of Bellaire and Sen. Vernon Sykes of Akron.
Ohioans wanting to vote absentee by mail will be on the hook for securing their own postage. Ballots are being mailed out to voters who request them the first week of October; you can learn more about requesting an absentee ballot here. Voters also have the option of returning their ballot to a dropbox located at their county board of elections office.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose had sought approval to spend $3 million from his own office to pay for voters’ postage.
Republicans on the board outlined a number of reasons for voting against. Several debated LaRose on whether his office had statutory authority to spend money this way and that it should be up to the state legislature to decide.
Since the conclusion of the primary election, LaRose has requested the legislature approve funding for prepaid postage. Not only has it not done so, but the Ohio House of Representatives passed House Bill 680 that expressly prohibits LaRose’s office from paying the postage. (The bill remains under consideration in the Ohio Senate.)
LaRose actually testified in favor of HB 680, citing support for other components of the bill.
On Monday, Wilkin argued that the legislature had already spoken on the issue by passing HB 680, and said he would be betraying that vote by opting now to approve the postage.
Besides the merits of the decision, Oeslager said it was too late in the election season to make any more changes to how it is conducted.
“I’m highly reluctant to change the rules of any election, let alone a presidential election, at the 11th hour,” he said.
LaRose pushed back, noting that ballots have not yet been sent out to voters and that voting had not even started. He also mentioned bipartisan support from elections officials throughout Ohio for allowing prepaid postage.
LaRose has been vocal about the need for absentee ballots to be returned promptly this fall; prepaying postage would be one way to ensure a quick turnaround for voters who would therefore not be tasked with locating or paying for a stamp.
In a statement following the vote, LaRose called the decision “another missed opportunity by the legislature.”
“Ohio has a sound elections system, but today was another missed opportunity by the legislature to make a small change, without an impact on our state budget, that would yield a big improvement,” the statement reads. “Ohio voters have 216 hours to vote early in person from October 6 through November 2, 13 hours to vote on Election Day, or they can request an absentee ballot by mail and it will be sent to them beginning October 6. Make a plan. Don’t procrastinate. Make sure your voice is heard.”