COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Ohio Statehouse is in the final stretch of its General Assembly session, and election legislation is moving through committees.
Without public testimony or discussion, and after a postponed vote last week, two election-related pieces of legislation were favorably reported out of House Government Oversight Committee on Monday. Both were approved 7-5, on party lines.
“The voters of Ohio have lost today, have absolutely lost,” Rep. Richard Brown (D-Canal Winchester) said.
House Bill 294, sponsored by Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) was one of the pieces of legislation voted out of committee with a new amendment added about absentee ballot drop boxes.
“It is enshrining, for the first time in permanent Ohio law, authority for drop boxes,” Seitz said.
The amendment allows for one election drop box per county, to be located at the county Board of Elections. Proponents argue the limit is a positive change, as there are no mentions of drop boxes in current Ohio law.
“On the left they say ‘well that’s not enough drop boxes’ well its one more than you’ve got right now because right now there is no legislative authority for any drop boxes whatsoever,” Seitz said.
Another version of the amendment floated around the statehouse would have raised the drop box limit to three per county — something Brown and other opponents view as a necessary inclusion.
“They made an already horrible bill worse,” Brown said. “Going from three drop boxes to one is particularly egregious in large counties like Franklin and Cuyahoga.”
The bill also seeks to eliminate early voting the Monday before Election Day — instead dispersing those hours throughout the week before the elections. It further prevents the Secretary of State from sending unsolicited absentee ballot request forms to voters’ residences, something Frank LaRose’s office did for the November election.
Opponents of the bill criticize its legislative supporters, arguing that Republicans are rushing it through the lame-duck session without enough consideration and without the “good” parts of the bill. Seitz, however, said the bill doesn’t only place restrictions on voting — it expands some voter access, too.
“Our bill also includes a process for online applications for absentee ballots,” Seitz said. “Which I think is a major step forward.”
Yet opponents argue that eliminating early voting the Monday before Election Day will only serve to disenfranchise voters, even if those hours are added elsewhere.
“More ballots will be rejected, less votes will be counted, and less people will be able to vote if 294 becomes law,” Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland) said.
HJR 6, which would increase the threshold to pass a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, also passed out of committee on Monday.
The House is scheduled to hold session on Tuesday and Wednesday, where these bills may be put forward for consideration.