(The Center Square) – Bill sponsors defended proposed changes to Ohio’s election laws that would reduce the number of early voting days and require two forms of identification in certain situations as Democrats begin a statewide listening tour Wednesday to take their concerns to the people.
Democrats open their Freedom to Vote Town Hall Tour at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Cincinnati. It continues with stops throughout the week in Columbus, Akron and Cleveland.
Reps. Sharon Ray, R-Wadsworth, and Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, went on the offensive with a noon news conference Wednesday. The two also sent a letter to the House Minority Caucus to dispel claims they say are false.
“Our charge as law and policymakers is to ensure a system that enables and protects one of our most cherished rights and responsibilities – the act of voting,” Ray wrote in the letter. “Carrying out this task calls for careful balance between removing unreasonable and unjust barriers to voting, and careful checks and balances to ensure that each citizen’s vote is secure, accurate and lawful.”
House Bill 294 also requires testing of voting machines before use in all elections and expands the definition of voter activity. It also only allows up to three ballot drop boxes to be placed only on boards of election property, no matter the population of a county.
While the bill eliminates early voting on the Monday before an election, it does call for those hours to be added to other days. The deadline to request an absentee ballot would be 10 days before an election, and it allows for automated voter registration, but not automatic registration.
Democratic lawmakers walked out of the House Government Oversight Committee last month after they say committee Chair Rep. Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro, threatened to cut off debate.
“After lawmakers were denied the ability to thoroughly vet a 174-page bill with vast implications on our right to vote, it’s abundantly clear that the intent of House Bill 294 is not to improve voter access or work across the aisle to build a democracy that works for all of us,” said Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Cleveland. “If elected officials are not allowed to ask questions and make their voices heard, then why should we trust the GOP to let Ohioans make their voices heard at the ballot box?”
Seitz said election officials made significant input to the bill, and he believes it builds public confidence and higher security in state elections.
“These updates to the system are a result of input from elections officials and local boards of elections from across the state,” Seitz said. “This bill ensures that Ohio’s elections moving forward are high integrity, which should be a priority shared among all Ohio voters.”