Voting Rights Legislation

SB 205 – Absentee Ballot Changes (2013-2014)

Link to Bill:
http://archives.legislature.state.oh.us/bills.cfm?ID=130_SB_205
Status:
Enacted
Summary:

SB 205 revises the law regarding the mailing of absent voter’s ballots:

  • Limits election officials’ ability to send unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters only in even-numbered election years and only if the Ohio General Assembly specifically funds it.
  • Bans all other public officials, employees, or offices from mailing unsolicited applications for absentee voter’s ballots to individuals.
  • Prevents any pre-paid postage for voters to be covered by government entities for any absentee ballot or ballot application mailings.
  • Expands requirements that election officials assist voters with disabilities or who are illiterate while they are casting an early in-person ballot or completing other documents at their local board of elections.
  • Permits boards of elections to discard votes cast where an absentee ballot identification envelope is “incomplete,” in addition to the current language of “insufficient.”
Primary Sponsors:
Secondary Sponsors:
, , , , , , , , , , ,
Committee:
Policy and Legislative Oversight (H), State Government Oversight and Reform (S)
LSC Legislation Status:
http://lsc.state.oh.us/coderev/sen130.nsf/Senate+Bill+Number/0205?OpenDocument
Jurisdiction/Legislation Level:
State
Our take on this bill:

While SB 205 does make some positive improvements for voters with disabilities, it unfortunately fails on several fronts to make voting easier for Ohioans.

One of the most concerning aspects of SB 205 is the addition of the word “incomplete” in reference to a voter’s absentee ballot identification envelope. Giving discretion to a few election officials to define exactly what this word means is likely to result in more ballots not being counted. Additionally, this language is overly broad language and could violate federal law.

Only allowing specific public officials to mail absentee ballot applications in even-numbered election years if the funds are approved by legislators creates several issues. This causes confusion as voters are unlikely to keep track of when they will or will not receive an application. Voters need certainty when it comes to receiving absentee ballot materials. Moreover, leaving voters subject to the whims of legislators or availability of funds further exasperates the situation. Democracy should not suffer due to a budget crisis. If the goal really is to enfranchise as many voters as possible, government officials would send absentee ballot applications for every election.

The ACLU of Ohio encourages the legislature to steer away from creating a “race to the bottom” by limiting ballot access of voters and contemplate more constructive ways to improve the absentee ballot process.

Bill Status:

Passed the Senate on 11/06/13

Passed out of the Senate State Government Oversight & Reform Committee on 11/6/14

Passed out of the House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee on 2/12/14

Passed the House on 2/19/14

Signed by the Governor on 2/21/14