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Rep. Robinson: GOP election bill sets stage for confusion and chaos in November

Says bill does little to prepare for presidential election amid pandemic
June 4, 2020
Phillip M. Robinson, Jr. News

COLUMBUS— State Rep. Phil Robinson (D-Solon) issued a statement today as Republican lawmakers voted to fast-track legislationthat does little to prepare the state’s Boards of Elections to safely conduct a presidential election amid the worst global pandemic in more than a century.

House Bill (HB) 680 shortens the time for voters to request absentee ballots, eliminates the ability for the secretary of state to prepay return postage for ballot applications, and bars the Health Director and other officials from affecting the conduct of elections—even at the risk of public health.

“In a time when we need to expand vote-by-mail, develop a clear process for our next election day, and make it easier for the state to address health concerns around the changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, my colleagues across the aisle are unfortunately doing the opposite with this bill,” said Rep. Robinson. “The only proponent of this bill was Ohio Sec. of State LaRose, and that’s because it gives him an excuse to not pay for the return postage of absentee ballots and their applications. Rather than saving Ohioans that additional cost, many in financial hardship from the pandemic, and in a time when it’s safer to vote-by-mail, Sec. LaRose and some Republican elected officials would rather we all pay to vote, reminiscent of a poll tax, or see our grandparents’ and loved ones’ health at risk by voting in-person. Meanwhile, the NAACP, League of Women Voters, Ohio Farmers Union, the Fair Election Center, Get Out the Vote, AARP, the ACLU, unions, church groups, other voter rights groups, and many others all opposed this bill. My office has received many calls and has been flooded with emails by constituents against this bill because of how it hurts their voting rights, and I agree with them.”

Democrats offered several amendments on the floor, including:

  • Removing the prohibition on officials from affecting the conduct of elections, which would limit the ability of Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton to determine if in-person voting is safe this November, which was sponsored by Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington).
  • Allowing the secretary of state to prepay return postage for ballot applications and absentee ballots, sponsored by Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland)
  • Removing confusion by allowing ballots to be postmarked by Election Day, rather than the day before Election Day, which was sponsored by Rep. Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati).
  • Mailing ballots to every voter for this November’s presidential election, sponsored by Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown).
  • Removing language that ends Early Voting at 6 p.m. the Friday before the election, sponsored by Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo).

Republicans rejected each of the Democratic amendments along party lines. 

The bill stands in stark contrast to the Democrats’ election reform proposal, HB 687, which Rep. Robinson is a co-sponsor, for holding a safe and accessible presidential election this November amid the worst global pandemic in more than a century, which has killed more than 2,000 Ohioans.

Democrats received input from voting rights advocates; civil rights, labor and community organizations; bipartisan election officials; local elected officials; and the secretary of state.

The bill addresses many of the issues that have been raised by stakeholders, including:

  • Expanding vote-by-mail by automatically sending a ballot to every registered voter, return postage prepaid.
  • Counting ballots postmarked by Election Day. Current law requires postmarking by the day before the election which is a source of great confusion and misinformation.
  • Expanding access to online voter registration to allow voters to provide either SSN4 or driver’s license/state ID number, not both, on the online form. Voter registration opportunities have been greatly reduced by BMV closures.
  • Increasing in-person safety protocols, like physical distancing and sanitization at all voting locations.
  • Implementing a comprehensive voter education campaign using trusted messengers on social media, TV, radio and newspaper advertising.
  • Protecting in-person voting by offering multiple Early Vote locations in medium and large sized counties and limiting precinct consolidation on Election Day.
  • Allowing counties to have multiple secure drop-boxes in the community where voters can drop off their mail ballots in person.
  • Extending provisional ballot and absentee ballot error correction period from 7 days to 7 business days and eliminating technical reasons to reject ballots such as transposed digits, providing the current year instead of birth year, tearing off a perforated stub from a ballot, and other insignificant errors.
  • Providing funds as needed for mail sorters, letter openers, ballot scanners, etc.
  • Codifying requirement that county boards maintain updated Election Administration Plans with emergency and contingency provisions

In addition, Democrats noted that the secretary of state has the ability to make needed improvements for the upcoming elections without changes in law, including:

  • Expanding Ohio’s NVRA “Motor Voter” voter registration agencies to include the unemployment office.
  • Reinstating purged voters who still live in Ohio.
  • Implementing Automatic Voter Registration administratively like other states have, giving people the ability to opt out.

After a party-line vote, HB 680 now moves to the Senate for consideration.