Local Politics: Voter suppression coming soon to Ohio

A draft of the potential new legislation was published last week by the progressive media site More Perfect Union

Craig Calcaterra
A voter casts an early ballot in Ohio in 2012.

As of the end of March, legislators in 47 states had introduced 361 bills with provisions in them which restricted voting in some way or another. Ohio is one of three states which has not seen such a bill. That's about to change.

A draft of new legislation was obtained by the progressive media site More Perfect Union late last week, and that draft reveals that Ohio Republicans are just as eager to suppress the vote as their counterparts in other states. Indeed, the draft bill contains some similar provisions to Georgia’s infamous SB 202, which has led to a substantial backlash and has cost Atlanta the 2021 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

Among the most notable changes included in the draft bill:

  • A requirement of two forms of ID when voting absentee or early as opposed to one, which was previously required
  • The complete elimination of ballot drop boxes except during states of emergency
  • The elimination of early voting on the Monday before Election Day
  • A ban on providing pre-paid postage for absentee ballots

Given that, in 2020, the rejection rate of absentee ballots was cut in half despite the fact that the number of absentee ballots doubled compared to typical years, doubling the ID requirement for those who vote absentee is a "solution" in search of a problem. Indeed, it just provides a new, unnecessary basis on which to premise ballot challenges, which is Republicans' new favorite voter suppression tactic.

But why go through the trouble of challenging absentee ballots when you can simply cut the number of them cast in the first place? That's what the complete elimination of ballot drop boxes will do. It's also a pretty neat trick to tie drop boxes' existence to a governor-declared state of emergency given that, just a few weeks ago, the legislature passed a law that restricts the governor's emergency powers. There are old Blockbuster VHS drop boxes that will see more use going forward than Ohio's ballot drop boxes. Between that and the prohibition on prepaid postage for ballots — a measure that requires payment to vote which, last I checked, is frowned upon in this country — it's pretty clear that the new bill is taking aim at the very concept of absentee voting.

Not that in-person voting is going unsuppressed. Taking away the Monday before election day, which featured jam-packed polling places last November as voters raced to get in under the wire, will certainly cause many people who would've voted to choose between dealing with long election day lines or to simply not bother.

Rep. Bill Seitz, the third-ranking Republican in the House, said last week that the uncovered draft is not the bill that will be introduced. “Drafts are drafts,” he said. “That's all they are." Seitz, however, told cleveland.com less than two weeks ago, that a bill was coming soon. What's more, this particular draft was sent to and thoroughly reviewed by the Legislative Services Commission, so it's not like this was the rough product of some brainstorming session that was never meant to see the light of day. It'll be shocking if what is eventually introduced doesn't look much like this draft. Or even exactly like it.

But, for the moment, I'm less interested in the what of it all than the why.

Why is this bill, or one like it, being introduced now, mere months after Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said that 2020 was "the most successful election we’ve ever had . . . on every metric you can look at"?  Why do this after an election that saw more Ohio voters cast ballots than ever before? Why add additional ID checks when LaRose himself, when asked about the likelihood of widespread voter fraud, referred to it as "a fantasy"?

The most obvious answer is that Republicans are taking advantage of the “Stop the Steal” lie perpetuated since November by former president Donald Trump. Not because the party believes Trump’s false claims of widespread election fraud, but because it believes that increased voter turnout harms Republicans and benefits Democrats. Studies have actually disproven that, finding that increased voting does not grant a partisan advantage, but this wouldn't be the first time Republicans in Ohio legislated out of ignorance and in a manner that harms their supporters just as much as it harms their detractors.

Heck, it wouldn't be the first time they've done so in the last month.