COLUMBUS—Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) today blasted House Republican lawmakers who passed an elections bill that does little to prepare the state’s Boards of Elections to safely conduct a presidential election amid the worst global pandemic in more than a century.
House Bill (HB) 680 shortens the time for voters to request absentee ballots, eliminates the ability for the secretary of state to prepay return postage for ballot applications, and bars the Health Director and other officials from affecting the conduct of elections—even at the risk of public health.
“Chaos and confusion marred this year’s primary, and this bill does little to address the serious concerns of voters, poll workers, voting rights advocates and elections officials from both political parties on how we can conduct a safe, accessible election this November,” Leader Sykes said. “Instead of taking the necessary precautions to prepare us for November, this bill takes us back by making it even harder to vote by mail. We should be making it easier, not harder for Ohioans to exercise their voting rights. We must do better.”
The bill stands in stark contrast to the Democrats’ proposal, HB 687, which would expand online registration, make it easier for Ohioans to vote by mail, and protect safe, accessible in-person voting opportunities amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed more than 2,000 Ohioans.
“We are now just three months away from when voting for the general election begins. HB 680 does not do enough to make people safe during this pandemic, and it doesn’t take the reasonable steps needed to make voting more accessible,” said Rep. Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati). “We should be working to make it easier, not harder, for Ohioans to make their voices heard.”
Democrats offered several amendments on the floor, including:
- Removing the prohibition on officials from affecting the conduct of elections, which would limit the ability of Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton to determine if in-person voting is safe this November, which was sponsored by Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington).
- Allowing the secretary of state to prepay return postage for ballot applications and absentee ballots, sponsored by Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland)
- Removing confusion by allowing ballots to be postmarked by Election Day, rather than the day before Election Day, which was sponsored by Rep. Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati).
- Mailing ballots to every voter for this November’s presidential election, sponsored by Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown).
- Removing language that ends Early Voting at 6 p.m. the Friday before the election, sponsored by Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo).
Republicans rejected each of the Democratic amendments along party lines.
“This country was founded on the principles of a government that is ‘for the people, of the people, and by the people’,” Rep. Russo said. “It is our job to safeguard these principles for all Ohioans, especially during a global pandemic. Ohio’s most recent Primary Election highlighted that we must make absentee voting easier and more efficient. HB 680 does neither of these things—it simply maintains the status quo, which is woefully unprepared for our current public health crisis. In November, many Ohioans will still be forced to make the unconscionable choice between jeopardizing their health and safety and exercising their constitutional right to vote.”
“HB 680 fails to include commonsense solutions like prepaying postage that would make it easier for Ohioans to vote,” said Rep. Sweeney. “The state paid for postage back in March, because voting by mail was the only option for many. It is unacceptable that this legislation prevents the use of federal funds – that other states will use – on return postage, because there are people across Ohio, such as seniors and those with pre-existing conditions, who may really only have one option. During one of the most turbulent times in modern memory when November is no clearer than tomorrow, I am deeply disappointed that HB 680 neither makes voting easier nor learns from the March Primary Election.”
“This is not the time to create new barriers or reinstate old barriers to keep the great citizens of Ohio from exercising their right to vote as easily and fairly as possible,” said Rep. Ingram. “HB 680 is another partisan tactic to disenfranchise our most vulnerable voters.”
“Once again, the majority party in the legislature missed an incredible opportunity to ensure that the November General Election is not a repeat of the primary. All they needed to do was send a ballot to every eligible voter in Ohio so they would have the ability to decide whether to mail it in or vote in person—if voting in person is safe in November. Instead, they chose to make vote by mail much more complicated and confusing than it should be. If the coronavirus reflares later this year, voters will be left scrambling to acquire mail in ballots and, as happened in the primary, people will be disenfranchised,” said Rep. Lepore-Hagan.
"I am disappointed that we did not make improvements to our elections to make voters, poll workers, and election officials safe in this pandemic. This bill tried to take our access to voting away and then it gave some back. But we still have not expanded voter registration, we have not expanded mail voting, and we have not expanded in person voting. This is simply not good enough for Ohioans. We are going through a pandemic crisis, an economic crisis, and a kindness crisis. I will continue to fight for real solutions that protect voting rights,” said Rep. Hicks-Hudson.
After a party-line vote, HB 680 now moves to the Senate for consideration.