We include the entire editorial because it is a good summary of the entire package.
Ohio lawmaker's election reform bills include voter ID requirement, reduced early-voting times
on September 30, 2013 at 2:47 PM, updated September 30, 2013 at 4:15 PM
COLUMBUS, Ohio – During the past two months, Rep. John Becker has introduced a package of bills on hot-button elections issues, including proposals to require a photo ID to vote, roll back early-voting times, and ban pre-paid absentee ballots from being mailed to every Ohio voter.
Becker, a freshman Republican from Union Township, said the bills are designed to curb what he called the “chaos” of the state’s current voting system. He said he’s not sure of the bills’ prospects in the Ohio legislature.
One bill, House Bill 269, is the latest legislative attempt to require voters to present valid identification when casting a ballot. Acceptable forms of identification listed in Becker’s bill include a driver’s license, a state or military ID card, or a passport.
Becker said even his bank asks for photo identification whenever he makes a deposit.
“It’s just basic security for all kinds of transactions in our society,” he said. “And voting is something that I think deserves at least some minimal security. “
Democrats have criticized voter ID laws as essentially a poll tax that would block poorer residents from voting. Becker said his bill would provide a free state photo ID for anyone at or below the federal poverty level.
The bill comes as federal prosecutors are set to file a lawsuit against North Carolina’s recently passed voter ID law as discriminatory against African-Americans.
Statehouse Republicans have unsuccessfully pushed for an Ohio voter ID law in the past, and Becker said Rep. Mike Dovilla, a Berea Republican, is working on a similar bill of his own.
Two other bills dive into the ongoing debate over early-voting times, an issue that exploded in controversy and multiple lawsuits prior to last year’s elections.
House Bill 250 would reduce the number of early-voting days from 35 to 17, while House Bill 263 would set in-person absentee balloting hours during weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on a statewide basis.
Becker said the current early-voting process has been “turned into a circus” thanks to a number of federal court rulings last fall. His legislation, he said, is intended to take control of the situation.
“Two weeks is plenty of ample time for early voting,” Becker said.
The longer Ohio’s early-voting period lasts, he said, the more opportunities there are for fraud. During the 2012 general election, 135 voting fraud cases were referred for prosecution out of more than 5.6 million ballots cast, according to a secretary of state's report.
Banning early voting on weekends – another point of contention last year – would save local elections officials money and make it easier for them to do their job, Becker said.
Becker has also introduced House Bill 266, which would prevent Secretary of State Jon Husted from mailing unsolicited pre-paid voter registration forms or absentee ballot applications to all Ohio voters.
Under Becker’s proposal, the secretary of state could still send out such forms so long as the mailing didn’t cover the return postage. Local officials would be banned altogether from sending out such forms unsolicited, regardless of whether return postage was included.
The lawmaker said the bill is a response to Cuyahoga County's decision to send postage-paid absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the county.
The decision would have sidestepped a directive from Husted; the secretary of state subsequently sent out absentee ballot applications statewide that did not include return postage.
Becker said it “creates a lot of unnecessary expense" to send out forms to voters who didn’t ask for them and cover mailing costs.
A fifth piece of legislation, House Bill 240, would prohibit special elections from being held in February and August.
Becker said he intends to introduce a sixth and final elections bill soon that would limit participation in a party primary only to voters registered with that party.
Currently, Ohio has a “semi-open” primary, meaning voters choose a party affiliation when voting in a primary. However, they don’t have to register with a party to receive a primary ballot.
Becker says crossover voting “creates havoc for both parties.” As for partisans living in areas where the other party dominates, such as Republicans in Cleveland or Democrats in suburban Cincinnati, Becker said they could just re-register with the majority party to ensure they still have a say in who their elected officials are.
Sen. Nina Turner, a Cleveland Democrat who's running for secretary of state next year, said the bills Becker has introduced are an “absolute disgrace” to Ohio and would hurt democracy in the state.
“It might not be Bull Connor. It might not be barking dogs or water hoses, but…they’re using 21st Century strategies similar to the segregationists of the South, and they’re doing it all over the country,” Turner said of proponents of increasingly restrictive voting laws.
“It is an absolute disgrace to the state of Ohio to have people elected who, instead of wanting to expand the franchise, are doing everything in their power to compress it just because they don’t want certain types of people to make it to the ballot box,” she said.
The senator predicted that Becker’s early-voting times would be successfully challenged in court if they passed.
Husted declined to offer his thoughts on Becker's bills. But he said he has pushed for the General Assembly to agree on a plan to set statewide early-voting days and hours into law.
"There are any number of ways that you could put together the days and the hours for an election that would be fair to all concerned, but the key is that it's done on a bipartisan basis," he said.