Ohio bill could create new barrier to early voting

In recent years, Ohio has drawn criticism for paring back early voting, which is especially popular among racial minorities. Now, a new bill could create additional barriers for those looking to vote early in the Buckeye State. 

The measure, which received its first hearing Wednesday, makes several mostly uncontroversial tweaks to the voting process, including moving back the deadline for a challenge to a voter’s eligibility from 20 days before the election to 30. 

But it also would change the ID requirements for early voters. Currently, early voters must only provide the last four digits of their Social Security number. Under the original version of the new bill, they would instead have to show one of several forms of ID, just as Election Day voters do. 

That change may not seem like a big deal, especially since Ohio has no photo ID requirement, so forms of ID like a utility bill or a paycheck are accepted. And after criticism, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dorothy Pelanda, a Republican, said she’d add a work-around to allow those without ID to instead apply for a ballot that allows them to vote with the last four digits of their Social. 

But state Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat, told The Daily Democracy she fears that despite the work-around, informational materials telling early voters they need ID could still have a chilling effect, deterring some would-be voters from showing up at all. And, Clyde said, applying for a special ballot would force voters to fill out additional paperwork, making it more likely that their ballot could be rejected for errors—an issue that has also been a source of controversy in the state. 

Most of all, Clyde said, the change “serves no purpose.” Indeed, the bill’s sponsors haven’t pointed to any past cases of illegal early voting that would have been stopped by the new ID requirement. 

In a statement issued Wednesday, Clyde called the bill “an attack on an easy voting method that many Ohioans juggling work and family like to use.” 

Rep. Pelanda didn’t respond to a request for comment. We’ll update this post if she does.

Already, Democrats in Ohio are primed to be wary of Republican efforts to change early voting rules. In 2014, as part of a decade-long fight over voting rules in Ohio, GOP lawmakers cut early voting hours and eliminated the six-day period, known as Golden Week, during which Ohioans could register and vote early in one trip to the polls. A federal judge last year blocked some of the cuts, ruling that they discriminated against racial minorities, who are more likely than whites to use both early voting and same-day registration. But an appeals court reversed that decision.

It may not help that one of the co-sponsors of Pelenda’s bill is state Rep. Bill Seitz, who already has gained a reputation as a supporter of policies that can hardly be described as voter-friendly. Last year, Seitz, then a state senator, sponsored a measure to force voters to put up a cash bond when asking a court to extend voting hours because of an unforeseen emergency. In recent years, courts had kept polls open late in response to a traffic accident that caused long backups and a software glitch that led to major delays.

Democrats called Seitz’s measure a “discriminatory poll tax” and Gov. John Kasich vetoed it. Seitz then charged that Kasich’s veto “subordinated the interests of Ohio taxpayers and poll workers to the interests of those who want to game Election Day voting hours for political purposes.”

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