COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Changes to Ohio’s election laws are now awaiting signature on Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk and Secretary of State Frank LaRose said he has been asking for some of those changes and others he would have done differently, but overall, said there is always room for improvement.
The new legislation would require a photo ID to vote instead of the current system which allows things like a utility bill to prove a voter’s identity.
“It was a good change because a lot of Ohioans want it,” LaRose said. “Is it the silver bullet thing that makes Ohio elections different from everywhere else in the country? No, not necessarily, because we already had a secure way of doing this.”
The bill has a provision so any Ohioan who does not have a photo ID can get one for free, and LaRose said even if you do go to vote without one, you won’t be turned away.
“At that point, you’ll be given a provisional ballot and you’ll have four days after the election to come to the board of elections and still prove your identity,” LaRose said. So, there are a lot of options to make sure no one is left out of the process.”
If you do go to your Board of Elections to prove your identity, you will need a photo ID.
A highly debated and partisan aspect of the bill surrounded ballot drop-boxes. The bill puts in writing, for the first time in Ohio law, that each board of elections can have just one ballot dropbox. LaRose said while he is happy that is codified, he would have done it differently.
“I would’ve preferred that they allow multiple boxes at that location so you can deal with the logistics of ‘drive up box’ over here, ‘walk up’ over there,” LaRose said. “But that means things like the Boards of Elections are going to have to be more diligent about making sure that they’re emptied frequently throughout the day, so it doesn’t get over full.”
The new laws would also make it so the time voters have to request and return an absentee ballot is shortened. LaRose said moving the request deadline up makes sense and is something he wanted. The bill will require absentee ballot requests be filed by the Wednesday before an election, instead of the current Saturday before.
LaRose did not ask for the return deadline to be shortened from 10 days after the election to four, but will make sure voters are informed.
“We’re going to make sure that people know what that deadline is so they can get that ballot in the mail so it will arrive at their Board of Elections within the new four-day window established by the legislature,” LaRose said.
The bill also eliminates early voting the Monday before an election and reassigns the hours to weekends and evenings, something LaRose said has had bipartisan support from election officials for a long time.
“They need to prepare for the opening of polls the next day, printing off the poll books and having everything prepared,” LaRose said. “In this case, it will be more convenient for both voters and for these hundreds and hundreds of hardworking elections officials.”
LaRose said while good changes came out of this General Assembly, he still has some ideas for improvement.
“Automating the registration process, that’s not going to be a benefit to one party or another, that’s just going to be a benefit to the voters and the process to make it more accurate,” LaRose said. “Something like online absentee ballot requests is not going to benefit one party or another but is going to make the process a lot more modern and efficient.”
He said if the General Assembly does want to change any more election laws, he encourages them to do so during the early part of next year.
“Whenever possible, election laws should be stable and predictable,” he said. “I don’t want to see a bunch of changes, particularly as we get closer to 2024. A presidential election is a high-impact event for our Boards of Elections and for voters, so we don’t want to see changes made close to a presidential election.”