Capital News: Ohio Republicans moving on election reform before year's end

by Marc kovac | Capital Bureau Chief Published:

Columbus -- I'll say it again: It's amazing how quickly state lawmakers can move legislation when they feel like it.

Take an issue like Medicaid expansion or an increase in oil and gas taxes, and Statehouse dwellers will hem and haw and say bills haven't been vetted enough, and they'll create task forces and schedule endless meetings to talk to "stakeholders."

Not so with other issues that come out of the blue and pass through the legislature faster than unfettered children rushing wrapped toys on Christmas morning.

We're in the waning weeks of a year before a gubernatorial election, and, suddenly, election reform is the most pressing need of the moment.

The flood started a few weeks back, when Republicans pushed through a bill to control how minor parties and their candidates qualify for the ballot. There's ample speculation about the motivation for the legislation, given the fact that lawmakers sat on such changes for half a dozen years. There's also a lawsuit filed to block the legislation from taking effect.

Since then, a number of other election-related bills have moved through the House or Senate or both. Here's a quick rundown, in case you're trying to keep track of them all. Generally speaking, Democrats aren't supporting these bills:

• SB 109, sponsored by Sen. Larry Obhof (R-Medina County), includes a number of election law changes, notably provisions for the testing, certification and use of electric poll books. The latter would be used by election officials in different precincts to check voter registrations.

The bill passed the Senate in May and the House last week.

• SB 216, sponsored by Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), focuses on provisional ballots, which are cast when a voter's eligibility is in question. Among other provisions, the bill requires a voter's address and birth date to be included on provisional ballot forms and shortens to seven days from 10 the timeframe in which affected voters can provide valid identification to ensure ballots are counted. SB 216 also would require voters to include their name, address, date of birth, signature and other identification when casting absentee ballots.

The bill passed the Senate last week and heads to the House for further consideration.

• SB 238, sponsored by Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Copley), would eliminate Ohio's so-called Golden Week, the period when eligible resident can register and cast ballots on the same day.

The legislation had two hearings in the Senate last week before passage by the full chamber. It heads to the House for further consideration.

• SB 205, sponsored by Sen. Bill Coley (R-Liberty Township), proposes law changes related to the casting and handling of absentee ballots. Notably, it would permit the secretary of state to mail unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters while prohibiting other public officials and employees from doing the same.

The bill passed the Senate earlier this month and had its first hearing in the House last week.

• SB 200, sponsored by Sen. Joe Uecker (R-Miami Township), clarifies the administration of a statewide voter registration database, increases how often addresses are checked and requires certain state agencies to share information about residents, among other provisions.

The bill passed the Senate in late October and had its first hearing in the House last week.

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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