COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohioans would be required to present photo ID at the voting booth and have fewer days to apply for absentee ballots or to vote early in person under a significantly rewritten bill that sped through committee and floor votes in the Ohio Senate on Tuesday.
The legislation, which cleared the Republican-controlled chamber 24-6, is the more stringent of two sweeping election law overhauls speeding through the Statehouse in the final days of the legislative session.
Democrats and voting rights advocates have blasted both measures as creating a litany of unnecessary new hurdles for Ohio voters, while GOP lawmakers have said they are protecting the integrity of Ohio’s elections.
But neither bill’s fate is secured.
An Ohio House bill that cleared committee Monday had yet to receive House approval, while the Senate bill was expected to face potentially pivotal Republican opposition in the House.
State Rep. Bill Seitz, the sponsor of the House voting bill, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he would vote against the Senate’s more restrictive version.
The Cincinnati Republican said his bill includes automatic voter registration, trims the post-election return window for mailed ballots from 10 days to seven and allows county boards of elections to place up to three ballot drop boxes at their office locations. By contrast, he said, the Senate’s bill doesn’t allow voters to be automatically registered, trims that return window for mailed ballots to four days and limits boards to a single drop box — and prohibits it from being open after hours.
He said restricting hours in that way would make the drop boxes useless to voters who can’t get to the board during the day, such as second-shift workers.
“I think that provision is needlessly confrontational,” he said, saying he could not muster the support from House Democrats necessary to get his less restrictive bill passed.
Republican state Sen. Niraj Antani, of Miamisburg, said during Tuesday’s floor debate in the Senate that he opposes drop boxes entirely — and hopes to explore eliminating them next session.
“Many people question, why is election integrity so important?” he said. “Because, without election integrity, nothing else we do matters. If the voters do not believe, or they know that our elections are not filled with integrity, that they are not secure, the confidence in what we do is undermined.”
Democratic state Sen. Cecil Thomas, of Cincinnati, begged to differ. He said Ohio’s elections chief, Republican Frank LaRose, has continually vouched for the integrity and security of Ohio’s recent elections, including reporting that voter fraud is extremely rare.
“The right to vote is our most fundamental freedom, folks. Why are we trying to deprive people of this freedom?” he asked.
Separately, Republican House Speaker Bob Cupp called it “doubtful” that a resolution advancing a ballot measure to raise the threshold for approving constitutional amendments from a simple majority to a 60% supermajority would pass this session. He said it could be picked up again next session.
Representatives of some 170 voting rights, labor, faith, environmental and other organizations around the state filled the Statehouse on Tuesday to protest the proposal.