COLUMBUS— House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron), House Minority Whip Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo), and State Representatives Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown), Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland) and Catherine D. Ingram (D-Cincinnati) released their proposal for holding a safe and accessible presidential election this November as the global pandemic continues.
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
The lawmakers received input from voting rights advocates; civil rights, labor and community organizations; bipartisan election officials; local elected officials; and the secretary of state. The members are drafting a bill to provide a safe and accessible voting experience for all Ohio voters, guaranteeing their fundamental right to vote and to have their vote counted.
Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes:
“Our members have worked intensely over the last several months pushing for improvements in the primary election and now proposing needed fixes to ensure a fall election that goes much more smoothly than the primary. I am proud of the work they’ve done to provide for a safe and accessible election. No one should have to choose between their fundamental right to vote and their health and safety. We can and must protect both.”
Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson:
“During this pandemic we have a duty to protect Ohioans’ rights. We can protect people’s health and their liberty. It is not either/or. We have put together a proposal that balances trusted voting methods for all Ohio voters. By expanding and improving absentee mail voting, we will help people stay safe when they vote while also taking pressure off the in-person polling places that many people still rely on. This plan is responsive to the needs of Ohioans and the stakeholders that have worked so hard to improve our elections.”
Rep Michele Lepore-Hagan:
“The confusion-riddled, problem-laden primary election was a travesty. We can and we must do better in November by encouraging people to vote from the safety of their homes. Mailing every registered voter a ballot and giving them sufficient time to complete and return it will protect the health of all Ohioans and strengthen our democracy. Our proposal is the best way to ensure the integrity of our electoral process during these challenging times.”
Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney:
“Ohioans cannot afford a repeat of the chaos and uncertainty that surrounded the March 17 election and the unconstitutional attempt to move it to June 2 with only minimal voter outreach. This plan ensures that election workers will have clear and definitive directions as well as ample time and resources to prepare for the General Election in November. We must act now to preserve Ohioans’ right to vote in the face of a global pandemic. Elections are too important not to have bipartisan input and decisive action”
Rep. Catherine D. Ingram:
“I never want to see an election like the one we just held again. Some voters still think voting in the primary will happen on June 2. Not everyone can keep up with the constant changes to the rules. The state must take greater care to ensure voters have accurate information so they will not be deprived of their rights. We can do it right if we act now.”
The bill the members are preparing will address many of the issues that have been raised by stakeholders such as the following:
ACCESS TO VOTER REGISTRATION
- Match 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
- Require 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
- Offer more than one Early Vote location in medium and large counties that currently have only one crowded Early Vote site.
- Guarantee adequate safe voting locations for Election Day by limiting the consolidation of precincts into a single location.
- Provide 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.
- Allow 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
- Send 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:
- Mail ballot applications to every registered voter under continuing law, but include pre-paid return postage. Current law prohibits prepaying return postage.
- Allow 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.
- Provide for prepaid return postage on any ballot application or ballot that is mailed to a voter.
- Allow Boards to contact voters by email or telephone to correct absentee ballot application issues.
CASTING MAIL BALLOT
- Count 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.
- Allow counties to have multiple secure drop-boxes in the community where voters can drop off their mail ballots in person.
- Allow 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.
- Require 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
- Extend 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 mail ballot defects may be corrected.
- Eliminate 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.
- Voters who are mailed a ballot but need or wish to vote in person instead will be allowed 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.
- 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.
- Fund capital expenses such as needed mail sorters, letter openers, ballot scanners, etc. (appropriate necessary state funds in addition to federal HAVA and CARES Act funds).
- Codify the requirement that county boards maintain updated Election Administration Plans with emergency and contingency provisions.
Members urge action by Secretary’s office
In addition, the members note that Secretary of State Frank LaRose has the ability to make needed improvements for the upcoming elections without changes in law. With petition drives on hold, BMVs closed, and other offices closed to in-person services, voter registration and updates to the voter rolls are suffering.
To be sure eligible Ohioans will not face voter registration obstacles, the members urge Secretary of State Frank LaRose to exhaust the existing authority of his office to help more Ohioans register to vote by:
- Expanding Ohio’s NVRA “Motor Voter” voter registration agencies to include the unemployment office.
- Reinstating purged voters who still live in Ohio.
- Implementing Automatic Voter Registration administratively like other states have, giving people the ability to opt out.
Finally, if a ballot application step is to be required, the members urge Secretary LaRose to build an online absentee ballot request website using the existing authority under Ohio law, the same law that permitted the secretary’s office to instruct voters in creating do-it-yourself application request forms for the primary. No particular form is required and voters can sign their requests electronically.
The members will continue working with stakeholders as they draft their bill and prepare it for introduction.