Legislation that would shorten the state’s early voting period and change requirements for casting provisional ballots passed the Ohio House May 18 following more than two hours of contentious debate. The final vote on House Bill 194 was a party-line 53-39, with Democrats opposing. The legislation next heads to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.
Rep. Robert Mecklenborg, R-Cincinnati, said the law changes are needed to establish consistent rules and procedures for voters statewide. “This is a serious piece of legislation,” he said. “It has a lot of complex issues, and we have endeavored from the very beginning to balance access, accuracy and equal protection throughout the entire state of Ohio.
“We simply cannot have 88 different counties applying 88 different standards to the registration process, to the voting process and to the counting process,” he said.
But Democrats countered that the legislation would make it harder for some people to vote and would disenfranchise people who don’t follow the specific procedures outlined in the bill.
“This bill is not about making it easier,” said Rep. Ronald Gerberry, D-Austintown. “It’s not about encouraging a wider sphere of participation, but rather it’s about finding ways to throw out ballots. It’s a way to lengthen voting lines in our urban centers and further complicate a citizen’s right to vote.”
Democratic opponents said the bill would make it harder for low-income, minority, elderly and younger voters to participate in elections. “Let’s call this bill what it really is — voter suppression,” said Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent.