Rep. Bill Seitz
Rep. Bill Seitz
By J.D. Davidson
The Center Square

Ohio legislative Republicans and Democrats have joined the voting laws debate that has become part of several state legislatures across the country.

House Republicans introduced legislation late last week that Democrats said is an anti-voter measure and divides Ohioans. The bill’s sponsor, however, said it prioritizes secure and safe elections and makes it easier to vote.

The Election Modernization and Security Act would allow voters to request an absentee ballot online but would be require two-factor authentication. It also would allow automated but not automatic voter registration at the bureau of motor vehicles.

Co-sponsor Rep. Sharon Ray, R-Wadsworth, a former county board of elections member, believes the legislation simply systemizes what the state already does for elections.

“As a former member of the Medina County Board of Elections and the bipartisan Ohio Elections Officials Association, I feel strongly that Ohio does elections right,” Ray said. “The Election Modernization and Security Act will codify much of what Ohio is already doing. The integrity of Ohio’s election practices should continue to be above approach.”

Democrats argue the bill rolls back voting improvements by requiring some three-tiered ID requirements for vote-by-mail voters and reducing the number of days for early voting. They also said it shortens mail ballot access by a week and restricts the number of ballot drop boxes.

“A democracy that works for us must include all of us, but Republicans with this bill are trying to divide us. This bill does nothing to make sure our voting options are equally accessible,” Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson, D-Toledo, said. “In fact, this bill takes us in the wrong direction with anti-voter measurers that erode our freedom to vote. Anyone who is serious about safe and accessible elections will look at this bill and see it’s a nonstarter.”

Ray and co-sponsor Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, said the proposal eliminates early voting the day before the election but time will be added to other early voting days. It also stops the mailing of absentee ballots less than 10 days before the election to make sure they can be delivered by Election Day.

The bill also calls for extensive testing of voting machines before all elections and the expands the definition of voter activity to prevent active voters from being removed from the rolls, they said.

“I feel this bill will not only make it easier to vote in the State of Ohio but harder to cheat,” Seitz said. “A goal we can all agree upon.”

Democrats point to several voting changes they have proposed over the years as pro-voter bills, providing more access and more opportunities. They have offered legislation to expand access to drop boxes, automated voter registration that requires an opt-out, providing mail-ballots with paid postage and allow mail ballots to be postmarked by Election Day.

“Ohioans believe we should be able to cast our ballots safely and freely but GOP lawmakers are trying to take that away from us,” Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, said. “This bill will make it hard to vote, create chaos and confusion and make Ohio a national leader in suppressing our most fundamental freedom. This is the opposite of what we should be doing to make sure our democracy works for people.”