COLUMBUS – House Democratic Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington), State Reps. Richard Brown (D-Canal Winchester), Catherine D. Ingram (D-Cincinnati) and Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland) held a news conference calling for the public to act before Statehouse Republicans can advance House Bill (HB) 294, the anti-voter bill. Democrats detailed the real-world threats of the proposed anti-democratic legislation and what Ohioans can do to try to stop it.
“Our right to vote is our way to come together as a people to help shape our democracy. It’s a freedom afforded to all Americans, and it’s one that should be fair and free for everyone,” said Leader Russo. “The anti-voter bill does the complete opposite of that. The anti-voter bill sets up needless and deliberate barriers for Ohioans by restricting where, when and how we vote.”
Ms. Nancy Foster, a 90-year old from Cincinnati, shared her story about how she was unable to exercise her freedom to vote this year on Election Day, despite multiple attempts. Ms. Foster requested her absentee ballot weeks before Election Day, but never received it. Her recovery from a significant medical procedure prevented her from voting in person, so her daughter, Ms. Sharon McKenzie, advocated on her behalf for hours to get her mother a ballot. Ultimately, Ms. Foster’s ballot request was denied by the Secretary of State’s office. Ms. Foster’s mail ballot finally arrived 10 days after the election, on Nov. 18. Ms. Foster’s story underscores some of the challenges Ohioans currently face while voting, none of which are addressed by HB 294.
“I wanted to vote because I deeply value my freedom to vote. I did everything right, but I still couldn’t cast my ballot. HB 294 doesn’t do anything to fix the challenges I faced while voting, instead, it creates even more barriers,” said Ms. Foster.
Rep. Ingram, Ms. Foster’s state representative, called for the legislature to focus instead on pro-voter bills that create a system where all citizens can exercise their freedom to vote.
“For the most part, Ohio’s elections run smoothly and efficiently. But when a situation like Ms. Foster’s occurs, when a citizen is denied their freedom to vote, our democracy demands that we act to ensure this never happens again. HB 294, Ohio’s anti-voter bill, won’t make our elections accessible and efficient. Instead, it would enact deliberate barriers to voting, creating more problems for voters and election workers alike,” said Rep. Ingram.
Rep. Brown, ranking member on the Ohio House Government Oversight committee, reiterated the importance of Ohioans speaking out against this rushed, anti-democratic legislation.
“When HB 294 was introduced in 2021, Ohioans came together and made it clear that our freedom to vote is never up for negotiation. Together, we successfully halted HB 294 the first time, and we can stop it again with your help. I’m going to fight this in committee, and I ask the people to make sure your voice is heard too. Come to the Statehouse Wednesday and Thursday and let it be known you do not support any restrictions that create needless barriers to our vote,” said Rep. Brown.
Rep. Brent, president of the Ohio Black Legislative Caucus (OLBC), condemned HB 294 for erecting deliberate barriers that would silence the voices of Black and brown Ohioans.
“We know that the freedom to vote has not always been accessible to Black and brown Ohioans. We had to fight, tooth and nail, for decades to pass the Voting Rights Act to guarantee the freedom to vote to all Americans, so we won’t stand idly by while some politicians in power try to take it away again. Democrats are committed to creating a system where every American can safely and freely cast their ballot,” Rep. Brent.
The House Government Oversight Committee will hold hearings on HB 294 this week, Wednesday at 3 PM and Thursday at 11 AM in Room 121 of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. Members of the public are encouraged to testify in person. Written testimony can be emailed to email@example.com, or call Chairman Wilkin’s office and tell him “no” on HB 294.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Watch the full press conference here. Additionally, a photo of Ms. Nancy Foster and her daughter Ms. Sharon McKenzie, as well as a timeline of Ms. Foster’s attempts to vote, are attached.