House panel OKs voting law rewrite, 60% ballot question


By Julie Carr Smyth - Associated Press



COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Over the strenuous objections of voting rights groups, Ohio House Republicans advanced two proposals Monday that would add a host of new restrictions to voting and place an issue on next year’s ballot that calls for requiring a 60% supermajority to pass future constitutional amendments.

The party-line committee votes send the measures to potential final House votes as soon as Tuesday — the same day civil rights, environmental, labor, faith and other opposing groups plan a Statehouse rally to try to stop them. The bill and resolution would then go to the GOP-led Ohio Senate, where action would be required before the fast-moving lame duck session ends next week.

After stalling for months, the bill changing Ohio’s election laws was significantly reworked in the run-up to Monday’s vote. Passed in the wake of the contentious 2020 election, it was initially touted for pairing restrictions with additional voter conveniences, such as an online absentee ballot request system.

The latest version shortens from 10 days to seven the time that boards of elections have to receive properly postmarked mail-in ballots, many of which come from military and overseas voters; eliminates early voting the Monday before an election and curbside voting; strikes a section that would have allowed automated voter registration; and changes current law to prohibit the secretary of state from ever mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications or paying for ballot postage.

Sponsoring state Rep. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, said he removed automated voter registration at the request of the Senate, in order to get the bill passed. The current version of his bill also struck a provision that would have allowed voters to use electronic versions of their bank statements and electric bills as voter ID and another that would have expanded the list of activities that keep voters who miss some elections from being purged from the rolls.

Also clearing the House Government Oversight Committee on Monday was a resolution advancing a 2023 ballot measure to require a 60% supermajority to amend Ohio’s constitution.

The issue is being championed by Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who has called it “a win for good government” that will assure a broad base of support to make changes to the state’s founding document.

The proposal comes as organizations frustrated by Ohio’s repeated passage of unconstitutional political maps and a near-total state abortion ban that’s been blocked by the courts have made known they’re considering advancing amendments of their own. Polls generally put public support for abortion rights at more than half of Americans, but less than 60%.

Republican state Rep. Brian Stewart, the resolution’s sponsor, testified last week that he picked the percentage at random, and without input from outside groups.

Among groups supporting the resolution was the Florida-based Opportunity Solutions Project, which did test the 60% threshold among a sampling of Ohio voters in an “election integrity support poll” released in June 2021. Other questions on the survey tested attitudes toward a variety of additional restrictions on future citizen-led ballot efforts, livestreaming ballot-counting, mandating and paying for voter ID and extending legislative authority over local election boards.

By Julie Carr Smyth

Associated Press