An Ohio House Government Oversight Committee hearing on May 20th chaired by Representative Shane Wilkin gave Republican Representatives Bill Seitz and Sharon Ray a chance to field questions from Democratic lawmakers about the election law changes they are sponsoring in Ohio HB 294 Enact Ohio Election Security and Modernization Act.

Introduced by Republicans, this bill changes Ohio election law in preparation for future elections in a state where Donald Trump won Ohio’s 18 Electoral Votes in 2020 with over 53% of the popular vote and a margin of over 8%.

Pro arguments for shoring up election integrity and con for protecting enfranchisement are typical nationwide in the face of constituent pressure. Ray said the state “succeeds at elections because we’ve found the right balance of voter access and election security,” and Seitz said, “We constantly seek to modernize our election laws with the view of making it easy to vote and harder to cheat.

State Reps. Bill Seitz, R-Green Twp., and Sharon Ray, R-Wadsworth/ Photo credit: OH Capital-Journal

Democrat critics call it a voter suppression bill and said the 90-minute session denied them the ability to thoroughly vet 174 pages. The Ohio Women’s Alliance referenced Jim Crow and criticized what they called “unequal and discriminatory” targeting of “vulnerable populations that use voting as means for survival.” A change to the absentee ballot request process was criticized for its potential to make the process more confusing and to disenfranchise minority voters.

Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Cleveland, was against a change of the absentee ballot deadline. She called it “too restrictive” and noted that those who requested absentee ballots within the nearer time frame in 2020 were able to return 91% of them successfully. Seitz responded by saying that amounts to an admission that “9% of the people were disenfranchised,” going on to say, “If we disenfranchised 9% of the Ohio population, I guarantee there’d be plenty of people jumping up and down and screaming about it.

Sweeney mentioned hundreds of emails and calls from Ohioans that she had received urging her to vote against the bill. Still, Seitz remarked, “There has been an orchestrated campaign by folks on the left to gin up form letters, which I care very little for because they all rest on a thread of misinformation and lies. So I don’t care if you’ve got 500 letters, I don’t care if I’ve got 200 letters. They’re form letters, and they’re resting on a tissue of lies.

HB 294 would:

  • Change the deadline for mailing absentee ballots to 10 days before election day rather than 3.
  • Restrict drop boxes to being located at the Board of Elections office with 24-hour video surveillance and reduce drop-off days from 30 to 10.
  • Allow voter registration and updating of address, driver’s license number, and other personal information at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Any such change would trigger a reset in the timestamp that determines “active voter status,” a metric used when cleaning voter rolls.
  • Direct the Secretary of State to adopt rules “for the purpose of improving the speed of processing new voter registrations” that would make that data electronic and send the original application to the applicable Board of Elections (BOE).
  • Prohibit “Direct electronic connection” between any of various voter registration locations, such as the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, public libraries, high schools, and vocational schools, and the statewide voter registration database. Any such data would first be required to be verified by the SoS or BOE.
  • Restrict use of voting machine manufacturers, assemblers, or distributing entities with which any elected official or spouse is a partner, owner, or member, excepting ownership of less than 10% of any publicly-traded company.
  • Require “systematic logic and accuracy testing if every component of every voting machine, marking device, or piece of automatic tabulating equipment with every ballot style to be used in the election.” The testing requirements further stipulate that both valid and invalid votes be tested and that an errorless count be achieved before use.

In our ongoing coverage of local election integrity efforts, we previously reported that Look Ahead America is suing the Stark County Ohio Elections Board over holding private meetings about purchasing Dominion voting machines they say should have been public.