By: Jayde Morgan
Following an overwhelming Republican victory as a result of the 2020 presidential and state-wide elections, the Republicans in Ohio began to look closely at the election laws within the state. In August 2021, the Ohio House of Representatives proposed House Bill 387. The bill was introduced by House Republican Representative Bill Dean in response to allegations of voting fraud in the 2020 election. More recently, on September 16, 2021, the bill was referred to the Government Oversight Committee as a part of the process to eventually get the bill passed. If the bill is passed, it would drastically change several aspects of the election process.
HB 387 would prohibit the use of ballot drop boxes. Ballot drop boxes became a hotly contested subject during the 2020 election. Ohio would follow Florida, Georgia, and Iowa in prohibiting boards of elections from processing and counting ballots that come in through a drop box. It would also restrict absentee voting. Under current election laws in Ohio, voters are able to obtain mail-in ballots for any reason and the Secretary of State (of Ohio) mails absentee ballots applications to all voters. Currently, Ohio has a relatively easy absentee voting process that allows voters to request an absentee ballot until three days before the election and to return the absentee ballot to the county board of elections until 7 P.M. on Election Day. HB 387 would restrict the type of voter that can use absentee ballots. Previously, Ohio allowed no-excuse absentee ballots. The new law would only allow absentee voting if a voter was disabled, ill, or fit other narrow exceptions. In addition, it would prohibit voters from using drop boxes to return their absentee ballots. All would need to be mailed to the precinct. Additionally, HB 387 would require all voters to present a state-issued photo identification. This alters the previous Ohio law which allowed for a larger variety of identification, including state-issued identification, utility bills, bank statements, or paychecks. The new bill could also place harsh restrictions on voter machines. Most notably, it would require all election officials to only use voter machine made in the United States. In terms of voting machines made in the United States, HB 387 does not lay out any recommendations as to which manufacturers are suitable to use. It seems that this provision has stemmed from fear of foreign countries, particularly Russia, attempting to interfere in United States elections. It is difficult to tell, but it seems that most manufacturers are headquartered in the United States. It is unclear if that will meet the requirements for HB 387. HB 387 is certainly one of the most restrictive laws that have been recently introduced in Ohio. Several sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill have publicly stated their belief that the 2020 elected was fraudulent. For example, Representative Scott Wiggam tweeted about reports of fraud on Election Day in 2020.
Knowing that the sponsors and co-sponsors of this bill believe that they are fighting against rampant fraud, it is understandable why this bill in particular is so restrictive when compared to its counterparts that are currently being introduced. In comparison, other Republican representatives introduced House Bill 294. This bill would impact many of the same areas as HB 387 would, but according to some, would be a less restrictive version. For example, HB 294 would allow drop boxes to be used for elections but would shorten the timeframe in which voters were able to use them. It would also impact the absentee ballot process by changing the law to say that voters have until ten days before the election to request an absentee ballot. However, unlike HB 387, HB 294 would not drastically change who can request an absentee ballot. Notably, while HB 387 would restrict nearly every aspect of the electoral process, HB 294 would expand voter registration. It would allow people to register to vote whenever they visited the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and to update their addresses, driver license numbers, legal name changes, and other information. The change suggest in HB 294 would allow Automated Voter Registration and Verification through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
In addition, Ohio removes inactive voters if they have not participated in election-related acts, such as voting, requesting an absentee ballot, etc. for a period of at least four years. In the past, Ohio has come under fire for incorrectly labeling certain voters as inactive when they had actually voted. HB 294 would allow the signing of petitions to count as voter activity to prevent voters from being removed from eligible voter lists. Several legislators have criticized both laws, but the Secretary of State’s office has stated that they will support the passing of HB 294.
In light of these new proposals to change Ohio law, it is clear that the legislature, particularly Republican members of the House, is seeking to tighten restrictions on election laws. Now, with both HB 387 and HB 297 making their way through the state government, Ohio legislatures will have a choice of just how far they will go in the name of safeguarding elections from fraud. It is clear that moving forward whichever law succeeds will do so through cooperation and compromise by the facets of the Republican party who introduced these separate bills and, perhaps, the Democrats on the other side of the aisle.