In the near future, State Reps. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) and Sharon Ray (R-Wadsworth) will introduce a comprehensive election law modernization and reform bill. Happily for Ohio, the reforms legislators have already implemented helped to ensure that there were only minimal complaints about the Ohio election results in 2020, as Seitz pointed out in his after-action review last November. But there is always room for improvement in safeguarding the integrity of election processes. After all, “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance”.
The bill will effectuate all of the following:
1. Automated (not automatic) voter registration through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles as has long been advocated by the Secretary of State.
2. Codify and expand the now-lapsed temporary law provision from HB 197 last session that authorizes each county Board of Elections (BOE) to have one securely monitored drop box at its premises during any pandemic or emergency (prior to that, there was no authority for any county to have any drop boxes ever), and to allow each county BOE to have 3 receptacles on its premises (under 24/7 video surveillance) for the 10 days immediately prior to the election, even absent any pandemic or declared emergency.
3. Codify two existing Secretary of State directives that require each county BOE to: have an Elections Administration plan, and carry out extensive pre-election logic and accuracy testing on every voting machine (paper-based and electronic) used in every election. It will also codify an existing directive that allows any recent activity by a registered voter, including signing any petition for a candidate or issue, to be considered evidence of voter activity, precluding such person from being purged from the voter rolls, and any recent interface with the BMV from a registered Ohio voter to also be considered as evidence of voter activity, barring their purge from the rolls.
4. Explicitly state that an absentee ballot that is received by a BOE that is inside the absentee ballot return envelope but not inside the ID envelope cannot be cured.
5. Expand the current ‘Youth at the Booth’ program to make all 17 year-olds eligible to serve as precinct officers. Under current law, 17 year-olds are allowed to serve as precinct officers only if they are also a senior in high school. This change simply drops the stipulation that they must also be a senior.
6. Clarify the current law prohibition against ballot harvesting by providing that those who violate it commit election fraud.
7. Create a secure, online absentee ballot request system that is consistent with the current online voter registration system, which requires two-factor authentication (using any two of the existing laundry list of permissible forms of identification).
8. Prioritize the order in which now-required forms of ID for absent voting are to be furnished, so that voters must use the driver’s license number or state ID if they have one, and only if they do not may they use the last four numbers of their social security number or other permissible form of ID.
9. Allow voters to use electronic versions of their bank statements or utility bills, instead of hard paper copies, as permissible forms of identification.
10. Eliminate in-person absentee voting on the Monday prior to the General Election, as has long been advocated by the bipartisan Ohio Association of Election Officials, so that county BOE’s can be wholly focused on preparation for Election Day.
11. To prevent the unintentional disenfranchisement of voters by the USPS (and per USPS’s own recommendation), this bill will shift the date to request absentee ballots from 3 days to 10 days before an election to ensure that BOE’s have enough time to honor these requests
12. Clarify that the Secretary of State (and only the Secretary of State) may use public funds to pre-pay postage to mail absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters, when funds have been appropriated for that purpose, but shall not pre-pay postage on either returned absent ballot request forms or returned absent ballots absent legislative authorization.
This balanced bill will indeed further goal of making voting easy and cheating hard. Compared to other states’ laws, Ohio will still have far more voting opportunities than in nearly any other state.