Rather than work in a bipartisan way on a comprehensive overhaul of election laws, the Republican-run legislature has proceeded on its own unfortunate course. This week, the Ohio House is working on bills that push aside important priorities and contain flaws that would make voting more difficult.
A floor vote is expected today on a bill that generally would shorten the period for early voting from 35 days before Election Day to 28 or 29 days, eliminating the “Golden Week” when it is possible to register and cast an absentee ballot at the same time. While these provisions would end confusion, and still leave plenty of time for early voting, the bill fails to address the need to set uniform days and hours for in-person absentee voting, a source of bitter controversy in the 2012 presidential election.
Also lined up for a floor vote today is a bill that would permit the secretary of state to continue mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters. The problem is, he or she could do so in general elections only — when the legislature provides the necessary money.
Local boards would be blocked from sending out applications and prepaying postage. Voters also could find their absentee ballots rejected if an identification statement is incomplete in even the slightest way.
Two other measures also are getting attention. One would slash early voting from 35 days to 17 days, cutting off in-person absentee voting on the Friday before Election Day. Such a measure would conflict with a federal court ruling in 2012 that restored in-person absentee voting on the three days before Election Day.
The second bill would put into statute federal court rulings on provisional ballots. Voters who, through no fault of their own, show up at the wrong precinct but right voting location would see their ballots counted. That’s good. Still, the bill would shorten from 10 days to seven days the time a provisional voter has to present proper identification and ask voters to fill out more information, creating the possibility for errors that could mean their ballots are rejected.
Sadly, that bill ignores the most efficient way to reduce Ohio’s heavy use of provisional ballots, online voter registration, which would greatly improve the accuracy of voter rolls.