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House Democrats walk out of committee as GOP leaders try to cut short debate on Ohio Anti-Voter Bill

Announce statewide tour for real discussion with Ohioans
May 20, 2021
Bride Rose Sweeney News

Democratic lawmakers walked out of the House Government Oversight Committee Thursday after the Republican chairman threatened to cut off testimony on House Bill 294, anti-voter legislation that would roll back ballot access and intentionally make the process more confusing for voters. 

“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? Addressing the very real need to update our election laws does not have to be controversial. I stand ready to work together and do the difficult work of legislating, to wrestle with the tough questions, to reason with those who have differing opinions. I hope my Republican colleagues can say the same.”

Ohio’s Anti-Voter Bill would reduce the number of days of early voting, shorten mail ballot access by a week, restrict ballot drop boxes, and codify new reasons to throw away ballots, among other changes opposed by pro-voter advocates.

Ohio’s latest anti-voter bill comes as Republicans across the country have introduced over 350 bills restricting the right to vote this year alone, including in Ohio, where House Republicans recently approved a resolution urging Congress not to pass the For the People Act, legislation to make sure voting options are equally accessible across all 50 states. 

“What we saw today was unsettling—Republicans unwilling to engage in civil discourse on their bill that would silence the voices of Ohioans by rolling back the right to vote,” said Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron). “If Republicans are unwilling to hear the people out, Democrats are going to take this issue to the people.”

Leader Sykes and House Democrats Thursday announced a statewide listening tour to hear from Ohio voters about the Ohio Anti-Voter Bill. The tour will be June 2-5 in cities throughout the state. Tentative dates for the tour include:

  • Wednesday, June 2 in Cincinnati from 6-8 p.m.
  • Thursday, June 3 in Columbus from 6-8 p.m.
  • Friday, June 4 in Akron from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
  • Saturday, June 5 in Cleveland from 12-2 p.m.

Locations will be announced in the coming days.

Here is what other Democratic members of the committee are saying:

“Any bill that erodes our freedom to vote is a nonstarter. Period,” said Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland). “HB 294 is an unwarranted rollback of our right to vote that’s every bit as dangerous as what passed in Georgia. The goal of this bill is simple—to suppress the votes and silence the voices of the marginalized and those who wish to be heard. We already have enough anti-voter laws in Ohio. We don’t need any more.”

“We had serious concerns about this bill and today’s hearing did nothing to allay those concerns. In fact, it confirmed them. This bill erodes our freedom to vote and anyone who values safe and accessible elections should be worried about the suppression tactics contained in this bill,” said Rep. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron).

“House Bill 294 is a divisive and dangerous anti-voter bill that contains many of the same attacks on our freedom to vote we saw pass in Georgia and other states—and Republicans don’t even want Ohioans to hear about it,” said Rep. Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati). “Our statewide tour will empower Ohioans to be heard. Because we know that a democracy that works for us must include all of us.”

Background on HB 294’s anti-voter provisions 

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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. 

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.

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.