By another party-line vote, the Ohio House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a bill requiring more information from would-be voters in order for their last-resort provisional ballots to be complete.
The Senate, again solely with Republican votes, swiftly ratified House changes to Senate Bill 216 and forwarded it to Gov. John Kasich. It marked the third voting-related bill to reach the governor’s desk in the last week.
He already has signed the first two, which affect early voting and absentee ballots.
Court challenges are inevitable.
“It seems like this General Assembly and the Republican Party are hell-bent on minimizing or restricting ballots being counted in the state of Ohio,” state Rep. Mike Foley (D., Cleveland) said. “... If you mess up and make a mistake, if you don’t check the right box … your vote’s not going to be counted.”
State Rep. Mike Dovilla (R., Berea) bristled at the contention by Democrats that the GOP was engaging in “voter suppression.”
“If indeed this or any elections bill that’s been enacted in this General Assembly constitutes such voter suppression, I would expect that the attorney general of the United States would file a lawsuit against the state of Ohio as he’s done in the state of North Carolina, the state of Texas, and other states around the country,” he said.
“In fact, the things we’re doing in election bills are not voter suppression,” Mr. Dovilla said. “They are an effort … to allow for common-sense reforms to the elections process.”
In the 2012 presidential election, Ohioans cast 208,044 provisional ballots, which are a last resort when there is some question about the would-be voter’s eligibility.
Such ballots are counted days after the polls close, once the voter’s eligibility checks out.
Of the provisional ballots cast, 34,299, or 16.5 percent, were thrown out, primarily because of registration problems or the vote was cast in the wrong precinct and polling place.
Senate Bill 216 adds the voter’s current address and date of birth to the field of information voters must supply when casting a provisional ballot.
It shortens from 10 days to seven the time period after the election for a provisional voter to prove his eligibility or correct a deficiency in the required information so that the vote will be counted.
Current law already requires the voter’s name and signature if he shows identification, and the last four digits of a Social Security number or the number from a valid identification card if he did not.
Addressing an issue that ended up in federal court prior to the 2012 presidential election — the so-called “right church, wrong pew” issue — the bill prohibits the counting of a provisional ballot when a voter is in the right polling place but at the wrong precinct table.
Democrats contend this change could punish voters because of poll-worker error and would disproportionately affect urban, minority, and Democratic voters more likely to live in counties with multiprecinct polling places than in rural, potentially more Republican counties.
On Friday, Mr. Kasich signed into law a bill cutting the early voting period from 35 days before the election to 29 days.
He signed another measure increasing the information required of voters for the casting and counting of absentee ballots and prohibiting any public official other than the secretary of state from mass mailing absentee-ballot applications to registered voters.
None of these bills dealt with in-person early voting hours, so Secretary of State Jon Husted this week set uniform hours for the Nov. 4 general election for all counties: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays beginning on Oct. 7 and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on two Saturdays, Oct. 25 and Nov. 1.
There will be no early voting on the Sunday and Monday immediately preceding the election.
By Jim Provance - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio (MCT)
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