Ohio advances bill to add ID requirement for early voting

An Ohio bill that’s been called a “targeted attack” on early voters passed the Republican-controlled state House Monday.

Both the bill’s Republican sponsor, and its chief Democratic critic, are running to be Ohio’s top elections official next year, so the debate is becoming an early campaign issue.

The measure, which now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate, allows early voters to scan their ballots before casting them, just as Election Day voters can do, thereby cutting down on paperwork. But it also changes the ID requirements for early voters, who currently must only provide the last four digits of their social security number. Instead, they would now have to show one of several forms of ID, though non-photo ID like a utility bill or bank statement would count.

After criticism, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dorothy Pelanda, a Republican, added a work-around so that those without ID can apply for a ballot that lets them use only the last four digits of their social.

But Rep. Kathleen Clyde (pictured), a Democrat, has said she fears that informational materials will still give voters the impression that they need ID, which could deter some people.

Clyde has warned about another potential problem, too: Having to fill out a separate application if you don’t have ID increases the chances that voters will make minor errors. Thanks to a 2014 law, Ohio’s local election officials often reject ballots that contain such errors. A lawsuit challenging the practice was rejected by a federal court last year, and the Supreme Court this month declined to intervene.

Clyde has said the bill, HB 41, could achieve its aim of reducing paperwork without changing the ID requirements. “While purportedly about reducing paperwork, HB 41 is really an attack on an easy voting method that many Ohioans juggling work and family like to use. I’ve served these voters and know there is no need to change the ID requirement on them,” she said in a statement last month.

Ohio’s early voters are disproportionately non-white, according to evidence presented during a legal challenge to Republican-backed cuts to early voting days and hours that were implemented in 2014. Some, though not all, of those cuts were ultimately reversed by a federal judge.

Clyde is so far the only declared Democrat in the race to be the top election official in a pivotal swing state. On the Republican side, both Pelanda and state Sen. Frank LaRose, who has supported past efforts to make voting harder, are running.

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