Watching the past three months unfold has left voter advocates and election administrators scratching their heads and rolling their eyes. It seems our elected officials learned nothing from the botched primary election. You would think the sting of national humiliation for fumbling this year’s primary would spur the kind of election improvements we saw in 2005 following the 2004 general election catastrophe. You would be wrong.
Lawmakers at the state and federal level have grossly neglected the need of their constituents to have safe and accessible voting options this November. Congress continues to drag their feet through the summer months; plagued by political gamesmanship to the detriment of families and communities across the nation. The U.S. Senate stands in rigid opposition to appropriating any new funding for election administration — funding that has been pleaded and begged for by our bipartisan county boards of election.
Meanwhile, concerns about the postal service’s ability to timely deliver ballots remain, and legislation to shore up their operations before the election isn’t likely to become law. This inaction has left states on the hook for conducting an election, in the midst of a pandemic, on a shoestring budget with no safety net.
In the Buckeye State, the Ohio General Assembly has been on vacation for over a month. All summer long, Ohioans, and our secretary of state, have been calling for common sense, bipartisan reforms to modernize our absentee ballot process in preparation for the November election which is expected to have the highest percentage of votes cast by mail in history.
What was the General Assembly’s response? Back in May they introduced an elections bill (HB 680) that makes it harder to vote absentee — an elections bill that couldn’t prompt a single person, or organization, to testify in favor while it was debated in committee. The bill doesn’t allow for online ballot request, doesn’t extend the postmark deadline, and doesn’t allow multiple early in-person vote centers. Instead, they doubled down on cutting early voting hours and prohibiting pre-paid return postage. Luckily, the legislature left for vacation before they passed this hurtful bill.
These are not the actions of a legislative body with the best interests of their constituents at heart. These are the actions of a legislative body paying lip service to those they swore an oath to serve.
Sadly, even Ohio’s chief elections official Secretary of State Frank LaRose, has been hesitant to fill the election reform void. To be clear, Ohio law grants the Secretary of State broad authority to administer elections independent of the General Assembly. Yet time and again LaRose chooses to step back, rather than step up. His solicitations for legislative improvements are a far cry from the “decisive executive” message on which he campaigned.
Where is the bold and innovative leader we saw on the campaign trail in 2018? Disturbingly, the only occasion LaRose wielded his broad authority was to make voting absentee harder when he forbid county Boards of Election from installing multiple secure absentee ballot drop boxes.
The secretary should immediately rescind his recent order to limit county boards of election to a single drop box. Allowing counties to operate multiple absentee ballot drop boxes is a common sense remedy for voters to efficiently cast absentee ballots in a safe manner without overloading a diluted postal service. LaRose has the sole discretion to right this wrong, and we should all call on him to do what’s right for Ohio voters.
Thankfully, after weeks of lobbying and public pressure from advocacy groups, LaRose is poised to go before a legislative committee to request permission to use a portion of his office’s own budget to pre-pay return postage for absentee ballots.
The legislative committee, called the Controlling Board, has the authority to approve state spending for emergency purposes. Can’t we agree giving voters safe and accessible voting options during a pandemic qualifies? Ensuring voters who apply for an absentee ballot won’t have to pay out of pocket to cast their vote is a small step toward achieving the election Ohioans deserve.
Anything less is simply not enough.