Ohio House considers, reconsiders military absentee ballot measure

By: - March 10, 2022 3:45 am

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose talks to reporters. (Photo by Susan Tebben, OCJ.)

The Ohio House couldn’t bring the votes together to approve a change to the overseas and military absentee ballot process. That is, until they tried for the second time in one day.

In a 55-40 vote on Wednesday, an emergency clause to allow changes to the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) to take effect immediately after the governor signed the bill was shot down by a mix of Democrats and Republicans, including the House Speaker.

This was contained in House Bill 188, which the Ohio Senate had passed Tuesday by unanimous vote.

Hours later, an appropriation was tucked into a Senate Bill 11. The bill was previously passed by the Senate, and was written to designate Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week and had language added regarding Juneteenth pay and a health care education pilot program.

The addition to the bill put in by the House would give the Ohio Secretary of State $200,000 to expedite mail delivery of the absentee ballots, was brought up Wednesday night. This process only required 50 votes. It passed 61-32.

The $200,000 used for absentee ballot delivery is in addition to $9 million that was approved one week ago as an amendment to Senate Bill 9. The $9 million is intended to be used by county boards of election for things like extra staff, overtime pay and vendor funding, according to Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

Democrats tried multiple strategies to attempt to hold up the passage of the emergency measure and of the appropriations bill, calling for points of order and accusing the GOP majority of procedural violations. None were accepted by Speaker Bob Cupp, who said the House had suspended typical rules to speed up the process, such as a rule that appropriations have to go through the House Finance Committee before being approved.

Most of the Democratic debate centered around their belief that the solution was not an extension of absentee ballot time for military members, but an extension of time for every voter, in the form of a new primary date.

Multiple members of the minority party claimed moving the absentee ballot deadline from 45 days to 30 days before the May 3 election was shaving more than two weeks off the time allotted for absentee voters.

State Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson, D-Toledo, made a formal motion to move the primary from May 3 to June 28, which was quickly smothered by majority vote.

Hicks-Hudson said it was wrong to pass the absentee ballot measure instead of changing the primary during a time when the Ohio Supreme Court is still deciding on the fate of the congressional and legislative district maps in the state.

“The possibility of (holding an election) standing here today without having fair and accurate maps … is an almost impossibility,” Hicks-Hudson said.

State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, took the lead on dismissing claims that the maps submitted to the state’s highest court by the Ohio Redistricting Commission were not yet approved.

“All this claptrap about your invalid maps are simply untrue,” Seitz said.

Cupp told reporters after the vote that he agreed with Seitz, despite the fact that the supreme court has said in previous court filings on redistricting that they maintain jurisdiction over the validity of the district maps.

“It’s a standard legal maxim that once a body with authority conducts its action, the action is valid until it is invalidated,” Cupp, a former state supreme court justice, said. “The redistricting commission has approved the map and it has not been invalidated.”

Senate President Matt Huffman and Speaker Cupp have both said legislative support is not where it needs to be to change the primary date, but have not said what they’ll do if congressional or legislative maps are shot down again, with many of the primary election deadlines in the rear view mirror.

Throughout the hours-long recess in the middle of the day, Cupp and LaRose said they both met with Democrats to see if a compromise could be met, but the state leaders said there was no interest.

“It is beyond me why the other side seems to want to play politics and try to scuttle the May 3 election and do everything they can to prevent us from getting these ballots overseas,” Cupp said.

Just as he’d done the day before when the Senate passed the measure, LaRose watched the chamber debate the issue. After the measure eventually passed, he said he was surprised to see how differently the move unfolded in the House compared to the relatively smooth process of the Senate.

He saw the assignment as a simple one: give the Secretary of State’s office 10 extra days to get absentee ballots back from overseas Ohioans and active military members, and authorize expedited postage.

“It’s remarkable that they went through all these machinations just now on the floor to try to keep me from doing that,” LaRose said.

Because the bill had already been passed, the House moved to reconsider the bill, which was possible via a House rule that says a reconsideration can occur with enough support from representatives who supported the bill originally.

As the House Dems looked to be putting up a fight early in Wednesday’s session, Democratic senators who had voted for the bill the day before encouraged them to hold back the absentee ballot measure.

“I hope the House Dems hold their ground,” said state Sen. Teresa Fedor, who is also running for Lt. Governor, in a tweet.

Ohio Redistricting Commission co-chair and state Sen. Vernon Sykes said he also supported “voting against the emergency clause to House Bill 188 and advocating for moving the primary in support of Ohioans’ fundamental right to vote.”

While Democratic senators also brought up a change to the primary date and avoidable chaos of the state’s redistricting process, they also said the absentee ballot issue was one that needed to be addressed.

The Senate must now take up the new version of Senate Bill 11 and decide whether or not to concur with the changes made by the House. The senate was not set to meet until next week, but LaRose mentioned the body may meet by the end of the week to take up the issue.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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