Ohio House GOP’s proposed voting law changes, explained

By: - April 26, 2021 12:50 am
A voting location

File photo of a voting location from Wikimedia Commons by Tom Arthur.

Two Republican lawmakers recently unveiled their election reform bill to colleagues, proposing changes to how Ohioans can register to vote and cast absentee ballots in future elections.

The bill has not yet been introduced, but Reps. Bill Seitz of Green Twp. and Sharon Ray of Wadsworth outlined their proposals in a cosponsor request to fellow members of the Ohio House of Representatives.

State Reps. Bill Seitz, R-Green Twp., and Sharon Ray, R-Wadsworth

Here are some key components to the bill and how the changes would differ from current Ohio election practices:

Automated voter registration at BMV offices

Currently: Ohioans can register to vote at a Bureau of Motor Vehicles office. Registration forms are available there to fill out and turn in (the same is true of a number of other public places, such as libraries).

Proposed Change: Streamlining the process so that information provided to the BMV is used electronically to register someone to vote.

Early voting day removed

Currently: Ohioans can vote early in-person, including from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Monday before Election Day.

Proposed Change: The Monday before Election Day would be removed from the early voting calendar. The bill sponsors say this is to allow elections officials to be “wholly focused on preparation for Election Day.” The preceding weeks of early voting would be unchanged.

Online absentee ballot requests

Currently: In order to vote by mail (or drop box), Ohioans must request a blank absentee ballot be mailed to them. Requests are made using a paper form that is submitted to a county board of elections office.

Proposed Change: Ohioans would be able to request an absentee ballot online. Doing so would require two forms of identification, similar to existing online voter registration. (A separate proposal calls for adding electronic versions of bank statements/utility bills as permissible forms of ID.)

This bill, if enacted, would let Ohioans request absentee (mail-in) ballots online. iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Drop box restrictions

Currently: Absentee ballot drop boxes came into widespread use in 2020. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has limited county boards of elections to only placing boxes outside their respective offices. The boxes are available for the duration of the early (absentee) voting period.

Proposed Change: County boards of elections offices would be allowed to place up to three drop boxes outside their office. The boxes would only be available for the 10 days prior to Election Day except for cases of a pandemic or other public emergency.

Absentee ballot request deadline rolled back

Currently: Ohioans have until noon on the Saturday before Election Day to request an absentee ballot.

Proposed Change: Making the request deadline be 10 days before Election Day. 

The current deadline of three days before is seen as logistically difficult — getting ballots out to voters and then voters submitting their completed ballots, all within a matter of days. LaRose is among those who have advocated for rolling back this deadline in order to ensure ballots can be received, returned and counted.

Of note: This deadline proposal of 10 days prior to Election Day is a more significant rollback than House Republicans sought in 2020. House Bill 680 from last term wanted the deadline rolled back to 7 days before Election Day.

A ballot drop box is seen outside the Athens County Board of Elections in 2020. The bill, if enacted, would limit the use of drop boxes for the 10 days leading up to Election Day. Photo by Tyler Buchanan.

Prepaid Postage

Currently: The Ohio Secretary of State Office has traditionally sent out blank absentee ballot request forms to all voters with return postage paid for to encourage voting.

Last year, the Ohio legislature declined to pay for this postage during the General Election. LaRose ended up using funds from his office to pay for it.

Proposed Change: Restricting the secretary of state from prepaying postage only if the legislature authorizes it first.

Voter registration purging

Currently: Registered voters can be removed from the voter rolls due to inactivity (not voting in multiple elections in a row). This is ostensibly done to keep the voter rolls updated and rid of those who die or move away.

Proposed Change: The bill would codify other actions a voter can take (besides voting) to restart the clock and prevent their voter registration from being purged. This includes signing a petition for a candidate/issue as well as any activity conducted at the BMV.

Young poll worker eligibility

Currently: 17-year-olds can serve as voting precinct officers only if they are in their senior year at high school.

Proposed Change: All 17- year-olds would be eligible to serve, regardless of grade level.



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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.