The following articlewas originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
The Ohio Senate hurried along legislation Tuesday that would extend the amount of time allowed to send and receive absentee ballots for overseas and military citizens.
The unanimously passed legislation was attached to House Bill 155, an unrelated bill having to do with insurance discrimination, and came at the request of state Secretary of State Frank LaRose. The House must now pass the legislation to move it to the governor’s desk.
LaRose sent a letter to senate leaders on Monday alerting that conversations with the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Justice led to one solution to possibly missing the deadline for the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
Typically, the UOCAVA requires states to send out ballots within 45 days of an election, in this case the May 3 primary. With the passage of HB 155, ballots can be sent up to 30 days in advance of the election, and citizens will have 20 days, rather than the original 10, to return the ballots to their county boards of election.
The secretary of state, who is also a member of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, has warned the commission and the legislature that the state is in danger of violating federal law without proper districts and without changes to the election timeline.
“Regardless of where we stand individually or collectively on litigation over Ohio’s political districts, we should do everything in our power to ensure that our brave men and women serving overseas are not caught up in those disagreements and disenfranchised from having their voices heard in this upcoming election,” LaRose wrote to legislative leaders.
Absentee ballots are mainly reliant on the postal service, so in the agreement LaRose and legislative leaders said has been made with federal government, postage will be increased to speed up the process of getting the ballots to and from the voters.
“What we’re doing today isn’t changing the amount of time to vote, it’s possible that they won’t have as much time to vote, but…with the extra cost spending on this mail, they actually may have more time to vote,” Senate President Matt Huffman told reporters after senate session.
Changes to the ballot requirements are needed because Ohio’s redistricting plans have been back and forth from the Ohio Supreme Court, with the legislative maps rejected twice and congressionals rejected once.
Revised versions of legislative and congressional maps are sitting with the state’s highest court, along with continued objections to the constitutionality of the maps.
The changes to the ballot schedule were approved unanimously by the senate, even by senators who said the changes could have been avoided had the legal snarls related to redistricting not happened in the first place.
State Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, said the amendment doesn’t address the continued uncertainty of the redistricting process, and she said a more important discussion is moving the primary date as a whole.
“This is such an unusual situation in the state of Ohio and you are making history,” said Fedor, who is also a candidate for Lt. Governor on John Cranley’s ticket. “And unfortunately it’s the kind of history we don’t really want to be responsible to deliver.”
Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp have both said the legislative support does not exist to change the primary.
Asked again whether or not moving the primary date was an option, Huffman said he has been told local boards of election are ready to take on the May 3 election, as long as the maps stay in place.
Huffman said he hasn’t had any “detailed discussions” about next steps if the maps are struck down again, saying he’d want to talk to election board members before volunteering any solutions.
“It’s kind of one of those things that … you make those decisions based on the facts that are in front of you at the time,” Huffman told reporters.
Huffman, LaRose, Cupp and the rest of the Ohio Redistricting Commission have until 4 p.m. Thursday to respond to objections to congressional maps, which have come from the League of Women Voters and a group of Ohio citizens represented by the National Redistricting Action Fund.