COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Voters may have fewer identification forms to choose from to show at the polls in 2023, as Ohio lawmakers consider mandating photo ID to cast a ballot in the state.
With less than a month until session comes to a close, legislators in both Ohio General Assembly chambers have been debating a slew of changes to current election law, including to absentee voting, early voting, and ballot collection boxes.
Voter identification is also on the table, after House Bill 458 — a bill eliminating most August elections — was heavily amended Tuesday to include a photo-ID requirement for voters, among other changes. The substitute bill was brought forth in committee by Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green), who chairs the Ohio Senate Local Government and Elections committee.
Half a dozen opponents testified against the amended bill in a hearing Wednesday afternoon, including the ACLU of Ohio, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, and Equality Ohio.
Some opponents noted the amendments turned a once 15-page-long bill into one that is more than 150 pages — with little time dedicated to public debate on the matter thus far.
“What exactly is the rush?” Common Cause Ohio Associate Director Mia Lewis asked members of the committee during her testimony. Lewis called the measures under consideration “drastic and draconian,” saying the requirements would make it harder for Ohioans to vote.
Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) countered during later opponent testimony that Georgia, a state with strict photo-ID requirements since 2008, saw record turnout in the 2022 midterm elections.
Proponents of mandated photo ID at the polls generally argue that the policy is popular — a 2021 Monmouth University poll had support at 80% among Americans — and that it counters efforts at voter fraud. Secretary of State Frank LaRose has said voter fraud cases are “exceedingly rare” in the state, with a little more than 600 cases referred to his office during his tenure.
Under the amended version of HB 458, the state would provide photo ID cards free to anyone who applies for one. That could cause revenue loss for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, however, according to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission.
Gavarone sponsored a photo-ID proposal earlier in 2022 that never made it out of committee, but she told NBC4 in October that passing stringent ID requirements was a priority for her.
“You need a photo ID to do an awful lot of different things: to get a job, to rent an apartment,” Gavarone said in November. “We want to encourage people to vote, but on top of that, we want to give people that extra layer of confidence that we’re doing things right here in Ohio.”
Under current Ohio law, non-photo IDs are permitted as proof of identity at the polls, which only became a state requirement in 2006. Some eligible non-photo IDs include utility bills, bank statements, or government checks.
Across the country, voter ID laws are relatively new to elections. They vary by state — 18 states have photo-ID requirements on the books — and many were ratified after the turn of the century, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A spokesperson for Gavarone’s office said she will hold at least one more hearing on H.B. 458 before session comes to a close.