EDITORIAL NOTE: This guest blog was written by Carrie Davis, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio
Earlier this year, we helped LWVUS shine a spotlight on some dangerous bills that were working their way through the Ohio Legislature. Unfortunately, Ohio is at it again. In the last two weeks, Ohio has enacted four major anti-voter changes to voting rules that will be in place for the general election this November, including some of the provisions we highlighted before the legislature returned to session in January.
These anti-voter provisions include:
- Eliminating the first week of early in-person and mail-in absentee voting. Commonly known as “Golden Week,” the first week of early voting overlapped with the last week of voter registration and had offered a narrow window of same-day registration and voting.
- A Secretary of State directive eliminating Sunday and weekday evening hours for early in-person voters. Sunday and evening voting have been hugely popular, especially “Souls to the Polls” programs that shuttle voters to the polls after Sunday church services.
- Imposing new restrictions on absentee voting, which could lead to voters not receiving their absentee ballot or ballots being rejected for simple paperwork mistakes. Rejecting absentee applications and ballots for minor mistakes blatantly violates a section of the Civil Rights Act that says states cannot reject voting forms for immaterial errors or omissions. The bill also prohibits any government agency other than the Secretary of State from sending unsolicited absentee applications, going so far as to prohibit counties from automatically giving them to poll workers.
- Unnecessarily complicating voting by provisional ballot, which could increase the number of provisional ballots cast by eligible voters being rejected. The new provisional ballot form requires voters to provide additional information on provisional ballot forms, including checking two boxes; ballots will be rejected if the forms are not completed properly. Not only does this violate federal law by rejecting ballots for immaterial errors or omissions, it undermines the safety net provisional ballots are supposed to provide as a “last chance” for voters who, for whatever reason, cannot cast a regular ballot.
The League of Women Voters of Ohio and our coalition partners presented extensive testimony expressing our concerns with the proposed legislation and tried to work with legislators to craft amendments to fix problems with the bills. Regrettably, despite our efforts, many problems remain in the final bills and Ohio Governor John Kasich ignored our plea to veto these voting restrictions.
So what’s next in Ohio? We’re not done, but we are switching gears.
We have three critical tasks ahead of us in 2014, which includes not only the Congressional midterm elections, but also the elections of all of Ohio’s statewide offices:
- Voter service. Not surprisingly, none of these bills or directives included funding to educate voters about the new rules in advance of this fall’s elections. Thus, it falls to the League and other voter advocates around the state to help voters navigate all these changes (PDF).
- Making the case for free, fair and accessible elections. We cannot let these cuts go unanswered. Ohio policy-makers need to hear from voters loud and clear that it’s time to make voting more accessible, not less, by restoring evening and weekend voting.
- Voter Registration. Like every year, we also remain committed to registering as many new voters as possible. Local Leagues across the state are integral to this effort.
We hope in our next report, we’ll be able to share our successes on these and other issues.