COLUMBUS, Ohio — The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
As state legislatures across the country consider how to alter their election systems, Democrats in Congress are pushing for nationwide reforms they say would make voting more accessible to all Americans.
Several of the changes outlined in House Resolution 1 are already in place here in Ohio. Groups making up the Ohio Voter Rights Coalition support the legislation as a way to ensure that Americans in all 50 states have full access to the ballot box.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican whose office oversees election management in this state, broadly opposes HR 1 and argues these changes should be made at the state-by-state level. State Rep. Thomas Hall, R-Madison Twp., sponsored a resolution urging Congress to reject HR 1.
Ohio is fighting back until the dangerous federal power-grab called HR 1 is defeated.@RepThomasHall is taking up the flag in our State Legislature and giving his colleagues a chance to tell congress that DC cannot run Ohio’s elections better than Ohioans.https://t.co/Kj8axBuTIw— Frank LaRose (@FrankLaRose) March 3, 2021
HR 1 recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives in a party-line vote, with Democrats in support and Republicans voting against. It now heads to the U.S. Senate.
Here are the changes outlined in HR 1 and how they would impact elections here in Ohio. Among the voting reforms, HR 1 would:
Create an automatic voter registration system in each state.
Citizens would be automatically registered to vote when they become eligible and would not have to manually register themselves. People would be able to opt out of being registered if they wish.
Ohio politicians from both parties have proposed changes to the registration system in recent years. A Democratic bill from last term sought to have Ohioans be automatically registered as soon as they turn 18 years old.
LaRose lent his support to a separate bipartisan bill that modernizes and simplifies the process of registering to vote as young Ohioans make contact with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. LaRose said he prefers this automated, not automatic approach.
Prohibit restricting voters from casting ballots by mail and have states prepay the postage.
More and more states are embracing a vote-by-mail system, which Ohio has had in place for years. Ohio allows voters to cast ballots by mail for any reason, so long as they request an absentee ballot first.
Some states currently pay for the cost of postage on ballots, but most do not. Ohio Republicans rejected a proposal last year to prepay postage on absentee ballots as well as ballot application forms.
Allow for same-day registration.
This refers to a person registering to vote and casting a ballot all on the same day. This would be a notable change in Ohio, which enforces voter registration deadlines 30 days ahead of each election.
Require at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections, each having at least 10 hours of voting time (with opportunities for morning and evening voting).
Ohio already has one of the most robust early voting schedules in the whole country, so this would not impact us much. To use the 2020 General Election as an example, Ohio featured 24 days of early voting in all 88 counties. The schedule allowed for morning, evening and weekend voting.
Do away with voter roll purges.
Ohio periodically removes voters from the rolls as a means of keeping the eligible voter list accurate. Voters can be removed for inactivity — either not voting for six years or not responding to state-issued mail warning them about getting removed.
Most recently, around 98,000 Ohio voters had their registrations made inactive following the 2020 General Election.
Ohio’s voter purge system has faced criticism over the years for accidentally including thousands of otherwise eligible voters.
Restore the right to vote for convicted felons who have served out their sentences.
Ohio already allows for convicted felons to vote (once they are out of prison), though not all states do so.
Among the other reforms, HR 1 would:
Overhaul the redistricting process in each state.
Bipartisan, independent commissions would be responsible for drawing new legislative maps.
Ohio voters already reformed the state’s redistricting processes (both for state and federal districts). 2021 is the first year to see those changes put into action.
Revamp campaign finance laws by requiring Super PACs and “dark money” groups to disclose their donors publicly.
This became a hot-button issue in Ohio last summer following the arrest of House Speaker Larry Householder and several of his political associates.
It took only days after the House Bill 6 scandal became public for a new bipartisan bill to be introduced seeking to shine a spotlight on political spending. LaRose, whose office also oversees campaign finance, offered his support for the change.
Create a government match for small-dollar donations to candidates for president and Congress.
Candidates for office could participate in this voluntary program to receive government matches up to six times over for small donations up to $200. The money would be financed by penalty fees paid for by corporations and banks. Taxpayer dollars would not go toward this campaign finance match program. The idea is to allow candidates to not rely as heavily on corporate interests on the campaign trail.