We are compelled to address an effort by the House Minority Caucus to disseminate the enclosed “talking points” document on H.B. 294, the Ohio Election Security and Modernization Act.
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. Carrying out this task calls for a 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.
What the House Democratic Caucus has chosen to do instead is prohibit its members from invoking the terms “fraud”, “secure”, “security”, and “easy” when involved in public discourse on election reform. This authoritarian muzzling of free speech dismisses the legitimate concerns of Ohio voters who want assurance that their vote is protected and counted. It speaks volumes that the Democratic caucus is so unconcerned with measures to promote election security that they won’t even allow their members to utter the word!
In January 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated the nation’s election systems as “critical infrastructure.” If the federal government has deemed the franchise worthy of this kind of protection, why wouldn’t the Democratic caucus want to encourage dialogue and instill public confidence as well?
We will address each of these partisan claims regarding H.B. 294 with objective facts below.
Claim #1: Limits counties to one ballot drop box location for 10 days before an election -regardless of how large or populated a county is. Voters in Ohio's highest population counties sat in traffic jams at drop boxes last year but counties will be prohibited from making drop boxes more accessible.
FACT: Currently, there is no authorization in the Ohio Revised Code for county boards of election (BOEs) to use any drop boxes. The bill will allow for an expansion of drop box usage by permitting a county BOE to place up to three receptacles (drop boxes) on its premises, each of which is required to be under 24/7 video surveillance. By permitting up to three, each BOE can place them strategically on their premises to facilitate a smooth drop-off system and avoid long lines of waiting cars.
Claim #2: Eliminates one of the busiest final three days of early voting - Monday. In 2020, some 31,413 Ohio voters voted the day before Election Day.
FACT: The elimination of the Monday before Election Day early voting came at the urging of the BOE officials – the ‘boots on the ground’ who run Ohio’s elections operations. However, let me be clear: the total number of early voting hours (216) in Ohio is NOT changed by the bill. The opportunity for early voting will not at all be diminished because a bill amendment reallocates those Monday hours to the week prior to Election Day. By law, the poll books for election day may only contain the names of those who have not yet voted, and the Monday hours for early voting gravely impede the ability of those BOEs to get those poll books readied0 for the 6:30 AM poll opening the next day.
Claim #3: Cuts off mail ballot requests at 10 days before the election, which would make Ohio more restrictive than 40+ other states. In 2020, some 451,863 Ohio voters requested a ballot the final week. In that time, 413,093 voters requested and returned their ballots.
FACT: The bill moves the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot to 10 days prior to Election Day to eliminate the current possibility of unintentional disenfranchisement. The new deadline also ensures county BOE’s have ample time to process these ballots leading up to Election Day. The current request deadline of only 3 days before Election Day allows for the possibility of ballots being requested but not returned in time to be counted, many times at no fault of the voter. The Post Office has requested (in writing to the Secretary of State’s office) that the deadline be 15 days prior to Election Day, to ensure they can deliver all these ballots on time. Based on the above statistic presented by the Democrats, almost 40,000 Ohio voters requested a ballot in the final week but did not have their vote counted via their requested ballot. This means that over 9% of voters who requested a ballot in those last 10 days may not have had their voice heard at all.
Claim #4: Two forms of ID would be required to apply online for a mail ballot and vote-by-mail voters would be subject to a new three-tier ID rule with strict photo ID as the preference. 58.6% of voters, more than 3.5 million, voted by mail in 2020.
FACT: Current law requires two forms of ID to vote absentee by mail, early in-person, or on Election Day. The difference between current law and what will be required for the new online absentee ballot request system created by this bill is that for mail-in absentee, due to the inability to capture an accurate voter signature using an online platform, this new system will require another form of ID from among the list in current law of permitted forms of ID. The new, tiered form on the mail ballots is simply to recommend, in order, the preferred forms of ID. The exact language of the new form is contained within the bill and is very straightforward. There is no consequence if a voter does not follow the order on the forms and the ballot is eligible to be counted if the voter provides any of the listed acceptable forms of ID. A voter is in no way penalized by providing a less-preferred form of ID, even if the voter could have provided a more-preferred form of ID.
Claim #5: If a vote-by-mail ballot is not inside TWO envelopes--the inner envelope and the outer return envelope-it will be thrown out. Ohio Republicans are trying the same anti-voter tactic Pennsylvania Republicans did to throw out more ballots…
FACT: House Bill 294 clarifies election procedure on this issue. Numerous BOEs from all around the state sought direction on this issue from the Secretary of State’s office in 2020. House Bill 294 simply codifies the best practice that the Secretary of State currently recommends. These second envelopes have been utilized in prior elections to help protect the identities of those who choose to vote absentee by providing an extra layer of security.
Claim #6: The bill doesn't add any automated voter registration to the voters' experience. It continues the same Motor Voter policy in place since 1995. In fact, it explicitly excludes online BMV customers from the opportunity to register to vote…
FACT: House Bill 294 builds upon Motor Voter policies from 1995 and creates a modern, innovative system for the BMV to efficiently communicate with the Secretary of State’s voter registration database. Currently, BMVs offer voter registration to customers but they generally do so with a paper form. Under the new system created by this bill, a more secure digital platform will be able to tell a customer if they are currently registered, and allow them to update as much (or as little) information as necessary. It is also important to note that under this bill any interaction with a BMV now counts as a form of voter activity that prohibits a voter from being purged. The second assertion made in point 6 is moot given the creation of the secure, online absentee ballot request system made by the bill.
Claim #7: Keeps large numbers of young people from the requesting mail ballots online by requiring 2 forms of ID, (incl. photo ID). The Plain Dealer reports that 17% of Ohio 18-year-olds don't have photo ID.
FACT: This bill actually expands the current list of permissible forms of ID to include any of the following documentation (as long as it shows the voter’s correct address): utility bill, electronic copy of a utility bill, bank statement, and electronic copy of a bank statement. Persons without a photo ID may still request an absentee ballot through the mail, vote early in-person, or vote on Election Day, as none of those forms of voting require a photo ID.
As sponsors of the bill, we will be offering two additional amendments to the bill to (1) further expand the list of acceptable documents to include electronic copies of government checks and other paychecks, and (2) require any state ID card (or duplicate, reprint, or replacement of that card) to be issued free of charge to all applicants who sign an affidavit of indigency and provide supporting documentation to the Registrant.
Claim #8: Makes ban on public offices paying return postage even stricter than current law. Paying voters' return postage would remove a barrier to voting by mail.
FACT: Current law already prohibits BOEs from pre-paying return postage on an absent ballot return envelope. This bill places the sole authority to appropriate return postage on the legislature. Paying for postage, just like paying for the gas in your car to drive to the polling place, is not a poll tax.
Majority Floor Leader
Ohio House of Representatives
30th House District
Ohio House of Representatives
69th House District