COLUMBUS - This week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio calls on state legislators to reconsider a pair of bills that restrict access to the ballot box for thousands of Ohioans. Legislators will hear testimony on House Bill 194 and Senate Bill 148, both of which will drastically change state election laws to shorten the period people may vote absentee, prohibit poll workers from assisting voters, and require some voters provide their full Social Security number.
“The path to the ballot box should be clear, not littered with unnecessary obstacles,” said ACLU of Ohio Staff Counsel Carrie Davis. “Ohio elections have improved remarkably since the long lines and confusion that marked the 2000 and 2004 presidential vote, due mostly to the expansion of early voting. These bills would send our state backwards and undo the progress we have made to expand access to the polls.”
The bills would cut the time period for early voting, whether in person or by mail, by half. County Boards of Elections would be prohibited from proactively sending absentee ballot applications to all voters and would not be able to pay for return postage for completed ballots. Voters would also be asked to provide their full Social Security number at the polling precinct.
“Not only is this provision a gross violation of privacy, it may well be illegal. Federal law prohibits officials from requiring full Social Security numbers except in very limited circumstances,” added Davis. “In addition, it makes little practical sense. Stories of private information being lost, mishandled, stolen, leaked, or hacked are commonplace in Ohio. Under these bills, our local elections could become an identity thief’s dream come true.”
Poll workers would be prohibited from directing voters to their correct polling location and assisting voters in filling out required forms. Under current law, employees are able to assist voters who are confused or unable to find their precinct or fill out forms.
“Instructing poll workers not to help a voter in need is like telling a nurse not to treat a sick patient. This will only lead to more votes lost, and employees feeling less empowered to adequately do their job,” concluded Davis. “Our right to vote is too important for politicians to play partisan games that will only keep people away from the ballot box. All elections laws should seek to expand access to the ballot box, not restrict it.”
The House State Government and Elections Committee will hear testimony on HB 194 at 1:30 p.m. May 10 and 9:00 a.m. May 11. The Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee will consider SB 148 at 9:30 a.m. May 11 and. May 12. The ACLU will testify in both committees.