Republican-sponsored bill aims to further tighten voter ID laws

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – It has been little more than a year since Ohio lawmakers tightened voter ID laws, and now there is a new effort to take the law a step further.

“This is not a partisan bill,” Representative Bob Peterson (R-Sabina) said. “We believe everyone desires a safe, secure election.”

House Bill 472 is sponsored by Reps. Peterson and Bernard Willis (R-Springfield). The bill had its first House committee hearing Wednesday. The bill’s sponsors said it is “critical” legislation that is about election integrity and safety.

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“We think like Ohio does it as well as any place in the country and world,” Peterson said. “We just want to make sure just like you update your computer antivirus on a regular basis, that we’re reviewing the election procedures and make sure we continue to be the best, fairest and most open elections in the country.”

The bill does things like require that the auditor of state annually audits voter registration systems to help make sure they are up to date and secure.

“Our job is to ensure that the database is as correct as it can be and to give resources to our boards of elections,” Willis said. “What we don’t have at this point is very solid protection on that database against the same types of intrusions we may have on the day of election.”

Despite the bill gaining support from 13 other Republican representatives, the more than 250-page bill is drawing pushback.

“I really do think it’s a voter suppression bill,” Representative Michele Grim (D-Toledo) said.

“That’s definitely not the intent,” Willis said. “I would say our goal is to get as many valid electors in the system so that they can vote.”

Director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, Jen Miller said while they want to work to improve elections, but says this bill is not the answer.

“This doesn’t actually make our elections safer,” she said. “It will make lines longer on Election Day, it will make poll workers’ jobs harder.”

In the legislation are also provisions to do things like require that someone who is requesting to vote by mail also provide a photo ID, rather than their social security number, unless they have an affidavit of a religious objection from being photographed. Willis said it is a proactive measure to ensure accurate voter rolls.

“Building in those securities up into the system up front I think protects everything up to the point where a person either sends in their vote or they show up at the polls on voting day,” Willis said. “Ohio already has one of the strictest voter ID laws in the county and voter impersonation – it does not happen in Ohio,” Miller said. “The voter ID law we have is already very strict and already very hard for seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, students and others, and this would make it incredibly more difficult.”

Miller said 10% to 11% of Ohioans do not have an ID issued by the Ohio BMV. Though current law requires a photo-ID to vote, there are options, like passport or military ID. This new bill would require an Ohio ID or driver’s license to register. But Willis said they are trying to be intentional, so it is not more difficult for anyone.

“We have to be very cautious about how we institute the things to allow them to register. Because that’s really where we are. We want to allow them to be able to register as valid electors,” Willis said.

The bill also would require that poll workers compare a voter’s photo ID with their appearance, and if they do not match, “challenge that electors right to vote.” Peterson said he trusts that law would not be enforced unfairly.

“In the past we’ve had 4-year driver’s license, now we are moving to 8 years, and my looks have certainly changed over the past 8 years,” he said. “But I trust poll workers and I trust the Secretary of State to put together good guidance.”

“Just imagine if you have had a major illness and have gained or lost a significant amount of weight, or you’ve been in an accident and have a disability now, or you are transgender,” Miller said. “These are all groups of people that are going to struggle to vote if there is this subjective measure by a poll worker.”

There is no calculation of how much this legislation would cost the state or boards of elections yet.

“I don’t think anyone has their hands fully around it yet,” Willis said. “But I want to emphasize upfront, this is one of those things we have to make a priority.”

Peterson said overall, he thinks the bill “puts a greater focus on making sure we continue to be the very best” and encourages everyone to register to vote. He said he is not sure it will pass and become law before the end of this General Assembly at the end of the year.

“The threats and challenges are real, so if you know there’s a problem, the sooner you can resolve it the better,” Peterson said. “We also recognize we are six months out form a major election and our board of elections have a very heavy schedule of work to prepare for that election, so we are very cognizant of that.”

Ben Kindel, Spokesperson for Secretary of State Frank LaRose said, in a statement:

“We’ve shared some agreement, as well as some questions and concerns, with the sponsors of the bill, and we’ll continue to have that conversation throughout the legislative process.”

Kindel said it is their office’s “top [priority] to maintain Ohio’s reputation as the gold standard for election integrity, and we appreciate the General Assembly’s commitment to upholding that high standard.”

Both Peterson and Willis said they are open to working across the aisle in continuing to write and tweak HB427.

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