Voter advocates are ramping up their criticism of elections bills moving in rapid-fire succession through the Republican-controlled legislature. One proposal they have correctly targeted is Senate Bill 205, now being considered in the House, which would adversely affect absentee voting, a popular option that eases crowding at the polls on Election Day.
Proceeding on elections matters in piecemeal fashion, without bipartisan consensus, is a sign of trouble ahead. The House should examine S.B. 205 most carefully, especially when it comes to the question of mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters.
As amended before passage in the Senate, the bill would allow absentee ballot applications to be mailed by the secretary of state to all Ohio voters in all general elections. An earlier version was too restrictive, limiting mailings to even-numbered years. Yet despite the improvement, the legislature still would have to set aside the money for each election year.
Jon Husted, the secretary of state and a Republican, wisely has recognized the importance of uniformity, insisting that absentee ballot applications be mailed statewide, not by individual counties. He has pointed out that mass mailings are a relatively low-cost way to ensure access to the ballot, his effort a credible counter to charges aimed at his party about disenfranchising the poor, minorities, students and the elderly.
That principle of uniformity should be expanded further, the legislature mandating that absentee ballot applications be sent out in every general election, giving voters no surprises from year to year. Funding the $1.6 million a year hardly would be difficult.
The House also should dump harsh language requiring voters to fill out completely their absentee ballot identification envelope, including address and date of birth, with even minor errors resulting in disqualification. Existing Ohio law still could require a voter to list ward and precinct, yet another unnecessary hurdle. Fraud is not a problem in Ohio, making access to the ballot by far the more important factor.