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Published: Tuesday, 10/29/2013

OHIO SENATE

Critic pans restrictive absentee voting bill

Mass mailings of ballots would be limited to state

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS — The latest attempt to restrict mass mailings of absentee ballot applications to voters would cause confusion, critics of a Senate bill argued Tuesday.

Senate Bill 205, sponsored by Sen. Bill Coley (R., West Chester), would only allow the Ohio secretary of state to mail applications to the state’s 7.7 million registered voters, and only if lawmakers appropriate money for it.

Ruben Castilla Herrera, an organizer in the Latino community, challenged the plan before the Senate State Government Oversight and Reform Committee.

“It’s difficult for voters to trust the system if the rules keep changing. It’s that simple,” he said.

“The idea of sending absentee voter ballot applications if and when the General Assembly agrees to funding appropriations will only fuel partisan bickering and divisiveness, and it will lead to voter mistrust,” he said.

The bill resurrects the debate over whether ballot mailings can give one political party an advantage over another, particularly when it is done by one county’s board of elections but not another. The practice was more often employed in urban counties like Lucas.

During the presidential election, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted mailed ballot applications statewide and has indicated that he plans to do the same for next year’s gubernatorial election.

“We did this mailing and one in three voters voted absentee,” said Husted spokesman Matt McClellan. “A study by Pew showed the average wait time for the presidential election was 11 minutes. We do believe this eases congestion and lightens the load on Election Day. It gives voters another option to make voting more convenient for them.”

Mr. Husted has enough federal voting funds available for the 2014 mailing.

His plan was opposed by the chairman of the Senate’s Public Utilities Committee.

“Even at the 2012 presidential election, only 17 percent of the absent ballot applications that Secretary Husted mailed out got returned,” Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati) said. “So 83 percent of them went right into the [trash].

“You think that is a good allocation of state money when we consider all the other unmet needs of state government and when you further consider that the election machines that we use on the day of [the election] are now seriously outdated and will need to be replaced at a cost of many millions of dollars?” he asked.

An attempt two years ago to prohibit the practice was part of a sweeping election reform law passed by Republicans, but then repealed under threat of a ballot referendum.

Senate Bill 203 also would prohibit elections boards from paying return postage on absentee ballots they send out at voters’ requests.

— Jim Provance



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