COLUMBUS, Ohio – In an atmosphere of heated partisan debate, proposals to trim early voting and set rules for mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications have cleared the Ohio House and are on their way to Gov. John Kasich’s desk for his signature.
Ohioans can cast an absentee ballot by mail or in person without giving any reason. Currently, early voting starts 35 days prior to Election Day.
A Republican-backed bill that would cut that time by eliminating the so-called “golden week” — a period when residents can both register to vote and cast an early ballot – cleared the House when members approved Senate changes. Without those days, early voting would then typically start 29 days before Election Day.
The vote was preceded by heated rhetoric from both sides of the aisle, prompting Speaker William Batchelder to cut off debate.
Supporters argued that the “golden week” strained local elections officials and, without it, Ohio remains among the nation’s top 10 states for the number of days for early voting, according a study by the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures.
They discounted arguments by Democrats that it was an attempt by Republicans to limit access to the polls for those who traditionally vote for Democratic candidates.
“Ohioans deserve elected officials who are able to put sound policy over soundbyte [sic] politics” said Rep. Mike Dovilla (R-Berea), chair of the House Policy & Legislative Oversight Committee.
Another bill would let the secretary of state mail unsolicited applications for general elections and only if the Legislature directed the money for it. Other public officials would be banned.
Ohio’s larger, urban counties traditionally have sent voters the applications without residents requesting them.
The votes came even as members of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, clergy and other backers of a Voter Bill of Rights amendment to the state Constitution called for a moratorium on voting-related legislation until their measure is approved by voters.
Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican, did not allow the proposal on the ballot, saying its provisions would run afoul of federal law, but the measure’s supporters say they will recirculate petitions to have the ballot language approved in time to be placed on the November ballot.