Making Voting More Difficult

House Bill 458 was passed by the Ohio General Assembly during its lame duck session late last year.  Governor DeWine signed the bill into Ohio law a couple of weeks ago. This means that H.B. 458 is now part of the reality confronting Ohio voters. H.B. 458 makes several major changes to the rules governing who may vote and how you may cast your ballot.

The biggest change is that Ohio voters now must show an identification card with their photograph on it to be able to vote. Formerly, several forms of identification without a photograph were permitted, such as a recent bank statement or utility bill provided those had the voter’s name and current address and that information matched what was in the voter registration records.

Now, everyone must have a photo ID. However, not all photo IDs will be good enough. The primary acceptable photo IDs are a valid driver’s license, a valid state-issued ID card, a valid passport, and a current military ID card. Among the photo IDs that are not good enough are student identification cards, even those issued by Ohio state universities (arms of Ohio state government), and identification cards issued by county veterans’ services offices (arms of county government). Making passports an acceptable form of identification is a significant change. Previously, passports were not acceptable identification because, while they evidence citizenship, they do not show the voter’s address.

Other states which have enacted photo identification requirements for voting have seen some drops in the number of voters. I have read estimates that over 400,000 Ohioans who are otherwise eligible to vote lack a photo ID. A driver’s license suspension for something like not having liability insurance or having unpaid tickets could disenfranchise an otherwise eligible voter. More significantly, and undoubtedly in the minds of the Republicans who rushed H.B. 458 through, is that everyone agrees that the Ohioans most likely to not have an acceptable photo ID are disproportionately low income, urban, and minorities; people more likely to vote Democratic.

Changes For Mail-in Ballots

The rules on mail-in ballots were also changed. Formerly, a mail-in ballot was timely and eligible to be counted if the ballot was (a) postmarked by the day before Election Day and (b) received by the Board of Elections within the ten days after Election Day.

H.B. 458 requires that mail-in ballots must now be received within four days after Election Day, something which neither the voter nor the Board of Elections has any control over. Every election, the Clermont County Board of Elections receives some ballots that were mailed before Election Day but which the Postal Service failed to deliver to the BOE within the ten-day period. Those ballot envelopes are not opened. Shortening the period for mail-in ballots to be delivered inevitably means that even more ballots will not be counted solely because of postal delay.

H.B. 458 shortened other deadlines

Formerly, if you had to cast a provisional ballot on Election Day, most commonly because you forgot to bring your ID, you had ten days after Election Day to bring your ID to the BOE and your provisional ballot would be counted. Likewise, many people who vote by mail make some error in filling out the security envelope containing their ballot. Common errors include omitting some required piece of information or writing the date of the election or the date on which they completed their ballot in the line for the voter’s birthdate. The BOE was required to notify those voters of the problem. Both voters casting a provisional ballot on Election Day and those who erred in filling out the security envelope for their mail-in ballot had ten days after Election Day to come to the BOE and fix the problem. That deadline has also been shortened to four days.

H.B. 458 also abolished in-person early voting on the day before Election Day. Before H.B. 458, voters could vote in person at the Board of Elections between 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on the Monday before Election Day. Many Clermont County voters did. No more.

Another significant change made by H.B. 458 was to change the deadline for requesting a mail-in ballot from the Saturday before Election Day to seven days before Election Day. This change probably made sense. Mail-in ballots must be mailed to voters. If a voter did not request a mail-in ballot until the Saturday before Election Day, it was doubtful that the voter would receive her ballot in time to vote it and return it within the deadlines. Still, this change to the law will change how some people tried to vote.

Solutions To Non-existent Problems

Most of the changes made by H.B. 458 are solutions to non-existent problems. Photo ID is supposed to reduce fraudulent voting. However, no one has ever produced any evidence that we have a fraudulent voting problem in Ohio. H.B. 458 will reduce legitimate voting, and that was the obvious intent behind the law. Nonetheless, H.B. 458 is the law. To minimize H.B. 458’s bad effects, voters need to be educated about the new rules. That education needs to happen early enough that voters can get their photo IDs in time to vote and that voters who habitually vote on the day before Election Day cast their votes earlier.

The Only Way To Stop Voter Suppression Laws

A lawsuit has been filed in federal court seeking to invalidate some of the worst parts of H.B. 458. It will be some time before we see whether that effort is successful. Don’t count on it.

There was a lot of opposition to H.B. 458. It passed by the Republican majority in the General Assembly and was signed by the Governor anyway. We will keep getting bad laws like H.B. 458, just like the Republican majority violated Ohio law in drawing the General Assembly and Congressional districts used in last year’s election. Why? Because the Republicans in Columbus do not care what Ohioans think or want. Why should they? They can do anything and still get re-elected. If we want to end bad laws, calling our state legislators and the Governor’s office is not enough. Rallies and marches are not enough.

If we want to reduce the number of bad laws, we must vote out the legislators who pass them and the Governor who signs them. Keeping their government jobs and the power those jobs bestow is the only thing that matters to Republicans.

Stay safe.