Ohio Becomes The Latest State To Introduce A Major Voter Suppression Bill

Republicans’ latest attack on the right to vote comes from Ohio, where state lawmakers introduced their first major voter suppression legislation on Thursday.

Like the bills just signed into law in Georgia and Florida, Ohio’s HB 294 makes its main target absentee voting and ballot drop boxes after those methods were widely used for the first time in Ohio for the November presidential election and helped increase nationwide voter turnout to record levels.

The Ohio House bill would limit the number of drop boxes to just one location per county, and that location can have up to three drop boxes. It would also allow drop boxes to be used only in the 10 days leading up to Election Day, a huge decrease from last year when Ohio voters had 30 days to return their ballot via drop box. 

Those boxes would also only be allowed outside of the county Board of Elections offices, hindering voters who don’t live near the offices and don’t have easy access to transportation. Such voters would have to find other ways to return their ballots.

In addition to the drop box changes, the bill would impose new restrictions on voter registrations and absentee voting, including limiting what kind of mail-in ballots can be “cured” ― the process of fixing small mistakes made by voters on their ballots so that the votes can count. HB 294 would also move the absentee ballot request deadline up seven days and eliminate in-person absentee voting on the Monday before Election Day.

Additionally, the bill would cut early voting hours, require two forms of voter ID and limit the existing ability of the Ohio secretary of state to prepay postage on election mail. Like similar bills across the country, HB 294 would disproportionately affect Black and brown voters, students, low-income residents, disabled people, active-duty military and seniors.

To promote the bill they co-sponsored, Republican state Reps. Bill Seitz and Sharon Ray used the same language that GOP lawmakers used in other states to try to curb voting rights. The lawmakers say that the bill would make it easier for Ohioans to vote and harder for people to cheat ― but the provisions in the legislation would actually restrict access to a large portion of state residents.

“You can call them what you want to: A pig is a pig,” Democratic state Rep. Catherine Ingram said, according to Cleveland.com.  

Ohio Democrats were expecting the legislation after a draft of the bill was leaked weeks ago to Democracy Docket. Despite being named the Election Modernization and Security Act, Ohio Democratic Party chair Liz Walters said, the proposed legislation “has nothing to do with modernization” and “only serves to take Ohio further back in the fight for voting rights in our state.”

“GOP politicians in Columbus are ignoring concerns from voting rights experts and plowing ahead with the most regressive measures we’ve seen yet,” Walters said in a statement.

But the bill does not come as a surprise to many Ohioans, whose state has a reputation for extreme gerrymandering in its districts. Ohio “is a breeding ground for voter suppression and this just further cements that tradition,” said Katy Shanahan, Ohio state director of All On the Line, a grassroots organization that fights against gerrymandering and for fair elections.

“Throughout our country’s history, people have worked and fought to ensure that the right to vote is accessible to all eligible voters,” Shanahan said in a statement. “But rather than implementing pro-voter policies that Ohioans across the political spectrum overwhelmingly support, some politicians in Columbus ― many of whom only hold power because of gerrymandering ― are now deliberately putting up discriminatory barriers that make it more difficult for individuals to exercise their most fundamental American right.”

The bill’s introduction came just hours after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed legislation that echoes a new law in Georgia in significantly restricting the voting rights of mostly Black and brown residents. Florida, which has long used mail-in voting and has sent absentee ballot request forms to all registered Republicans since the 2000 election cycle, now imposes major restrictions on absentee voting and ballot drop boxes.

As of March 24, Republicans across the country have introduced at least 362 bills (including Ohio’s) with restrictive voting provisions in 47 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Six restrictive bills have already been signed into law, and at least 56 restrictive bills in 25 states are moving through legislatures, about half of which have passed at least one chamber.

“We get comfortable. [These voter suppression laws are] really shocking and really terrifying,” Spread the Vote founder Kat Calvin told HuffPost. “It’s so important for us to remember our wins are not permanent. That doesn’t mean we stop fighting. It means that when we have losses, we just recognize this is a path that history always takes.”

All eyes are currently on states like Texas, Arizona and Michigan, which have introduced several proposals to restrict voting access. Democrats and voting rights groups are pressuring Congress to pass federal voting rights legislation that would override many of the restrictions being implemented at the state level. 

Vice President Kamala Harris met Thursday with voting rights and civil rights leaders and heard about the work they’re doing to mobilize their networks and fight voter suppression. Harris reaffirmed to the leaders that the White House supports the For the People Act ― which would expand Americans’ access to the ballot box ― and for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act ― which would restore the full protections of the earlier Voting Rights Act.

The For the People Act has already passed the House and is currently being amended by Democrats in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in late April that the deadline for passing the bill is “probably in August or so,” but at the rate that Republicans are introducing state-level voting restrictions, that could result in more damage than anticipated.

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