COLUMBUS— State Representatives Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) and Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland) announced the introduction of House Bill 687, a bill to improve voting so Ohio can hold a safe and accessible presidential election this November as the global pandemic continues. The bill is a strong contrast with the GOP’s HB 680, introduced last week by Rep. Cindy Abrams, which would repeal voter access provisions like the hard-won last three days of early voting and the mailing of applications to all voters.
Highlights of the plan include:
- Mailing a ballot to every voter return postage paid, skipping the application step
- Counting ballots postmarked by Election Day
- Protecting safe and accessible in-person voting opportunities
- Greater access to voter registration
Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson:
“We promised to introduce an election bill that would safeguard voters health and their constitutional right to vote. We have kept that promise by introducing House Bill 687.
Unlike HB 680, our bill does not cut the last three days of early voting and access to voting by mail. It is outrageous that while a deadly disease has killed more than 100,000 Americans, and is hitting minorities and the elderly harder than most, that anyone would propose taking away the very voting access that can help keep Ohioans safe. We must do better.
We listened. Our bill, House Bill 687, is the result of careful planning and input from stakeholders who know Ohio’s voters best. Expanding and improving absentee mail voting and keeping our hard-won final days of early voting right before Election Day are key to a successful election.”
Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney:
“Ohioans cannot afford a repeat of the chaos and uncertainty that surrounded the most recent election. We need a real plan that expands voter access and prepares for every eventuality. During one of the most turbulent times in modern memory when November is no clearer than tomorrow, House Bill 680 would roll back existing voter access provisions. While 680 is a shameless example of partisan opportunism, our plan is the culmination of months of talking with and listening to voter rights groups. I urge my colleagues to swiftly take up House Bill 687 and give it the same serious consideration as 680, which is offensive to our democracy and should offend every voting Ohioan.”
The Democrats’ bill, House Bill 687, includes the following provisions:
ACCESS TO VOTER REGISTRATION
1. Matches the online voter registration form with what is required on a paper voter registration form by requiring either SSN4 or driver’s license/state ID number, not both, on the online form. Voter registration opportunities have been greatly reduced by BMV closures and event cancellations.
VOTER EDUCATION CAMPAIGN
2. Requires the state to undertake a comprehensive voter education campaign using trusted messengers on social media, TV, radio and newspaper advertising designed to reach voters across Ohio where they consume information. Providing voters with accurate information should not be partisan battle.
PROTECT IN-PERSON VOTING
3. Provides that counties may have more than one Early Vote location instead of only one crowded Early Vote site.
4. Guarantees adequate safe voting locations for Election Day by limiting the consolidation of precincts into a single location.
5. Provides for safety protocols at in-person voting locations such as physical distancing, proper sanitizing, and use of masks in accordance with public health officials’ recommendations.
6. Allows 17-year-old high school juniors to be poll workers. Current law allows 17-year-old seniors to serve and election officials requested the change to aid in poll worker recruitment.
EXPAND MAIL VOTING BALLOT DELIVERY
7. Require the sending of a ballot to every registered voter, return postage prepaid. Skip the confusing application step that caused delays and deprived people of their voting rights in the primary.
In the alternative, if ballot applications continue to be required:
8. Maintains the mailing of ballot applications to every registered voter under continuing law, but includes pre-paid return postage. Current law prohibits prepaying return postage.
9. Allows voters to apply online for mail ballots. House Democrats passed this reform over 10 years ago as part of House Bill 260 in the 128th General Assembly.
10. Provides for prepaid return postage on any ballot application or ballot that is mailed to a voter.
11. Allows Boards to contact voters by email or telephone to correct absentee ballot application issues.
CASTING MAIL BALLOT
12. Requires counting of ballots that are postmarked by Election Day or dated or otherwise marked with postal insignia by Election Day. Current law requires postmarking by the day before the election which is a source of great confusion and misinformation.
13. Allows counties to have multiple secure drop-boxes in the community where voters can drop off their mail ballots in person.
14. Allows voters to have a trusted helper deliver their ballots to their boards of election. Current law only permits certain family members to return ballots for someone but excludes grandchildren, cousins, roommates, and friends of the voter’s choosing.
15. Requires a visual inspection of postal facilities by bipartisan designees of each board of elections to eliminate failures to timely deliver ballots to the boards.
FIXING BALLOT PROBLEMS
16. Extends the provisional ballot and absentee ballot error correction period from 7 days to 7 business days and allow any defect in the provisional ballot to be cured just the same as absentee ballot defects may be correcte
17. Eliminates technical reasons to reject ballots such as transposed digits, providing the current year instead of birth year, tearing off a perforated stub from a ballot, and other insignificant errors.
18. Allows voters who are mailed a ballot but need or wish to vote in person instead to vote a regular ballot in person, not a provisional ballot, so long as the person hasn’t submitted their mail ballot to the board already.
19. Nothing in the bill will take away a voter’s right to at least cast a provisional ballot in person and have that ballot counted.
20. Funds capital expenses such as needed mail sorters, letter openers, ballot scanners, etc. with federal HAVA and CARES Act appropriations.
21. Codifies the requirement that county boards maintain updated Election Administration Plans with emergency and contingency provisions.