(The Center Square) – The state House passed an amended version of a bill Republicans say improves Ohio’s elections, but Democrats blasted the measure as “ill-conceived.”
The state House approved House Bill 680 by a 61-34 margin. The bill, which was introduced on May 26, now heads to the state Senate for consideration.
“In a world turned upside down because of COVID-19, I am so disappointed by my colleagues on the other side of the aisle for undermining our right to vote,” state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, said while debating a proposed amendment. “This bill appears to undermine democracy as well. So why don’t we just thumb our noses at our constituents?”
Democrats have introduced a competing proposal, House Bill 687. They want to mail eligible voters in the state an absentee ballot and for the state to cover the cost of postage for voters to return their ballots.
“We believe those justifiably concerned about exposing themselves to coronavirus should not be forced to choose between protecting their health and voting,” Lepore-Hagan said. “It’s just a formula for electoral disaster. Don’t you think it’s time we stop playing games with our democracy and people’s lives?”
Before the House voted on the measure, which requires voters to apply for an absentee ballot, Democrats introduced a series of amendments, which Republicans defeated.
“This bill ensures Ohio will continue its tradition of allowing Ohioans to cast their ballots in person on Election Day,” state Rep. Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison, said on the House floor. “This legislation will safeguard Ohio’s elections, ensuring every Ohioan will know how elections will be run, how they can vote and, most importantly, that their vote will count.”
One point of contention is a provision preventing a public official from changing the date of an election.
The stipulation is aimed at avoiding a repeat of Ohio’s March primary when Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton ordered polls to close shortly before they were set to open, and Gov. Mike DeWine pushed to reschedule in-person voting for June 2. Lawmakers later moved to extend absentee voting until April 28.
“I don’t need to remind anyone of the confusion and uncertainty in the final moments before the March 17 primary and in the days that followed,” Abrams said. “The bill before you makes clear that our elections will be governed by the laws of Ohio as enacted by the legislature.”
While in committee, lawmakers removed a so-called “failsafe” backup election plan to allow “the governor and state health director to recommend to the legislature that an upcoming election be conducted largely by mail,” according to a release.