The legislation, which initially eliminated most August special elections, became a vehicle for broader election restrictions included photo ID requirements
After a protracted day at the Ohio Statehouse, lawmakers approved sweeping new voting restrictions including photo ID requirements early Thursday morning. That proposal now heads to the governor.
The House gaveled in for session early Wednesday afternoon, and after half an hour of ceremonial proceedings broke for recess. Rep. Tim Ginter, R-Salem, described the break as 30 minutes “more or less.”
It took nearly six and a half hours for lawmakers to get back to work.
Turns out they had a holiday party in the Statehouse atrium.
When House lawmakers returned to their desks, they didn’t jump straight to the controversial measures. They concurred on a bland smattering of measures amended in the Senate. Lawmakers made tweaks to occupational licensure and township authorities. They even made the All-American Soap Box Derby Ohio’s official gravity racing program.
After that they went back to farewell speeches.
Later, the House took up Senate Bill 202. The proposal prohibits disability from being used as a pretext for denying or limiting parenting rights. Representatives tacked on a series of unrelated amendments. Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, proposed a task force to study the state’s bail system to see how many people are being held for lack of money.
“As is so much the case with so many things in Ohio — simple things that you would think we would know — we don’t know!” Seitz said.
Other amendments allow county prosecutors to represent other officials, provide a salary bump for a Fulton County judge instead of replacing a retiring colleague, and allow lawyers to apply out of state experience toward their judicial candidacy.
Lawmakers then took up and passed an unemployment compensation measure. Once they were done, the chamber went back into recess so the GOP could hold a caucus meeting.
All the while, lawmakers whipped votes and opponents made a handful of eleventh-hour appeals.
AARP’s state director Holly Holtzen wrote a letter to the House members arguing older Ohioans are “disproportionately affected” by voter ID requirements.
“While AARP supports fair and effective procedures to detect and prevent voter fraud, we also want to ensure that Ohio’s 50+ population can exercise their voices in elections,” Holtzen wrote. “We understand that state lawmakers have a responsibility to balance these two elements but doing so responsibly and with sufficient debate is crucial.”
The organization made a similar appeal in 2011 for a voter ID measure that didn’t go forward.
Fifteen minutes before midnight, the House returned to take up voter ID legislation.
The Senate added the language to legislation eliminating most August special elections.
In addition to requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls and allowing one drop box per county, the bill makes a series of cuts to the voting timeline. Absentee ballot requests must arrive a week, rather than three days, before Election Day. The final day of early voting will disappear, with its hours redistributed through the previous week. Absentee ballots postmarked the day before the election have to arrive within four days rather than the 10 allowed under current law.
Rep. Seitz explained the changes on the House floor and dismissed Democrats’ complaints about voter ID requirements.
“What we’re doing is we’re saying anyone who does not have a driver’s license in Ohio can get a photo ID at the BMV — free. Free, free free,” Seitz said.
Seitz also insisted he’d earned two concessions from the Senate that would be included in amendments to a separate bill. Under those changes, ballot drop boxes would be available outside regular business hours provided there’s 24-hour video monitoring. The other amendment would give boards more than four days to make their way through provisional ballots.
Then Seitz argue the legislation represents a “missed opportunity” for Democrats. He pointed to the Senate reducing the number of proposed drop boxes from three to one.
“As I predicted on day one with our bill,” Seitz said, “if you do not like this bill, if you are not willing to work with us on this bill, do not be surprised when at the end of the day you will get a bill that is much less to your liking.”
Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Cleveland, pushed back, disputing Seitz’s characterization.
“When you’re working from a basis of removing the right to vote,” she said, “that is not really a place that me and my colleagues on this side of the aisle feel that we are ever going to be in a position of supporting something.”
Sweeney criticized the reduced time for absentee ballots to arrive after the election, and she invoked GOP concerns about voter fraud to do so. If one unlawful vote is one too many, she argued, isn’t disenfranchising one voter too many?
Rep. Richard Brown, D-Canal Winchester, picked up the idea of voter fraud, too, and went in a different direction. He noted Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s reports of how safe and accurate Ohio elections are.
“If our election system is the gold standard, which other states emulate and look to for how they should run their elections, then why are we changing anything at all?” Brown asked. “There’s no need to change anything. There is no problem to solve here. In fact, the changes suggested in this bill and the amendments, solve no problems, but create new ones.”
Rep. Kent Smith, D-Euclid, noted “nothing good happens after midnight,” as he began his testimony early Thursday morning. Nevertheless, House lawmakers voted to concur with the Senate amendments around 12:30 a.m. With a vote of 55 to 32, the House passed the measure and it now heads to the governor.
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.
Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.
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