Mailbag: Will the response to Ohio’s voting reforms resemble Georgia?

This voting sticker, designed by student Emily Legg, was chosen in May to be the new sticker in Ohio. Photo courtesy the Secretary of State's Office.

The U.S. Census Bureau data may be delayed, but the Ohio Capital Journal Mailbag is right on time. Let’s get started:

Got a question about Ohio politics/government? Send them by email to [email protected] or tweet them to @tylerjoelb.

After the Georgia voting bill passed, lots of folks wished there had been more timely pressure on (and, ideally, a helpful response from) the corporate supporters of those representatives promoting the bill. Now that the Ohio Statehouse is taking its turn at amending voting provisions, is there a group of corporate sponsors who might be able to weigh in and make the bills better?

– Elizabeth S., via email

Answer: Is “we’ll have to wait and see” an acceptable cop out here?

It’s a good question, but really, it’s hard to know until the legislative process plays out. Reps. Bill Seitz, R-Green Twp., and Sharon Ray, R-Wadsworth, introduced the bill last week. (You can learn more about what’s in the bill here.)

There are elements of the legislation that Democrats and voting rights groups will oppose: the elimination of early in-person voting the day before Election Day; the restrictions on drop box usage; and rolling back the absentee ballot request deadline.

State Reps. Bill Seitz, R-Green Twp., and Sharon Ray, R-Wadsworth, plan to soon introduce an “election law modernization and reform bill.”

The Republicans also propose a change these groups have long called for: allowing online absentee ballot requests. There is also a provision to make registering to vote a bit easier, although some Democrats are still pushing for a more comprehensive automatic voter registration system.

Legislators throughout the country have introduced hundreds of laws this year to restrict voting access, according to a bill tracker from the Brennan Center for Justice. Georgia was already in the spotlight after serving as a crucial swing state that helped Joe Biden win the presidency. A successful effort from Republicans to enact new voting measures led to widespread attention and criticism. Corporations such as Coca-Cola and Delta condemned the law, with MLB opting to move its 2021 All-Star Game away from Atlanta following its passage. 

The Georgia bill included some similar provisions as the Ohio bill — restricting drop boxes and shortening the time voters can request absentee ballots — though Georgia’s had some other controversial provisions. For example, it will now be illegal in Georgia to offer water to people waiting in line to vote.

Georgia has a State Election Board and the election reform bill gives the legislature there more control over it, according to a New York Times analysis of the bill. The Georgia secretary of state position was removed as a voting member of the State Election Board; current Secretary Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, took heat for mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters and for rejecting then-President Donald Trump’s claims of voter fraud in Georgia.

The Georgia bill outlaws mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters in any future election.

It’s hard to know if the Ohio business community will take a stance on any future voting rights bill. Even if business owners do come out against the bill, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Republican supermajorities at the Ohio Statehouse will care.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce, as an example, is a public supporter of the Ohio Fairness Act — a bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Even with some bipartisan support, there have yet to be any committee hearings in 2021 on this legislation.

Here is the full statement from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce regarding new election bill:

‘The Ohio Chamber of Commerce believes the right to vote is a fundamental right and essential to a well-functioning democracy. In addition, we believe economic freedom is essential for democracy to thrive, and that free enterprise thrives when democracy is secured.

As an organization representing the interests of the business community, the Ohio Chamber does not seek to determine what elections processes are best. However, the employees and consumers of Ohio companies expect that we will use our voices to reinforce the principle that all Ohioans should be able to participate fully in our democracy.

We know that, in the 2020 General Election, a record number of Ohioans voted. The 2018 election likewise saw record turnout for a gubernatorial election. This was due, in part, to recent, significant reforms to modernize our election system and increase opportunities to vote, and in part due to Ohio’s built-in bipartisan election oversight.

Broad participation is vital to fostering trust in the election process. Therefore, as lawmakers consider changes to Ohio law regarding election procedures and voting, the Ohio Chamber asks that they work across the aisle to ensure that voting in Ohio remains easy, safe, accurate, and secure.”

Who are the most likely Democratic primary opponents (if any) to Nan Whaley and Tim Ryan?

– Adam Rosen, on Twitter.

Answer: As you know, apparently the entire state of Ohio has spent 2021 seriously considering a run for office, so the answer may be everyone. But I’ll try to narrow things down.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley is running for governor and another Southwest Ohio mayor may also jump in the race. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The dust has settled a little bit in the Ohio political sphere, with Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley jumping in the race for governor and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan now campaigning for U.S. Senate.

The primary election is scheduled for 12 months from now. Many of the names rumored to be contemplating a statewide run early on in the year have either declined or are campaigning for something else.

In the Democratic primary for governor, it looks like Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley will be the most noteworthy contender against Whaley. The venerable Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Jason Williams wrote in April that Cranley is exploring a run for governor and may launch a campaign later this year.

So far as I’m aware, there are no other Democrats who have committed (or even hinted) at a run for U.S. Senate. Some have said they are considering it, but filing to run is a whole different thing.

I’ve written before about the Ohio Democratic Party’s lack of “deep bench” in regard to candidates for statewide office. From the beginning of this cycle, Whaley and Ryan were identified by many as two top candidates with both name recognition and political experience. Democrats also have to field candidates for secretary of state, attorney general, auditor and treasurer. 

Democratic candidates will already have a big enough challenge going up against incumbent Republicans — or, in the case of the 2022 U.S. Senate race, trying to flip the seat with incumbent U.S. Sen. Rob Portman retiring. A slate of contested primaries may not be ideal.

Got a question about Ohio politics/government? Send them by email to [email protected] or tweet them to @tylerjoelb.

Reading list

Here are some important and interesting Ohio Capital Journal articles you may have missed:

Ohio Republicans push bill to ban 5 transgender athletes from women’s sports – An insight into recent attempts to ban transgender girls from women’s sports from reporter Jake Zuckerman.

Some city health depts. in Ohio may be forced to merge with counties – I wrote about a provision in the Ohio House of Representatives’ budget bill that could force municipal health departments to consolidate with their county health departments.

‘Fair School Funding’ praised in education budget, other parts in need of second look – Reporter Susan Tebben outlines the public school funding formula within the Ohio House’s budget.

Health care giant acknowledges Ohio suit, says more could come from other states – The latest on Ohio’s lawsuit against Centene, the largest Medicaid contractor in the U.S., from reporter Marty Schladen.

Increase support for child care in Ohio. This is a no-brainer. – The case for more spending on child care from editor David DeWitt.

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