COLUMBUS -- With backers saying it will reduce paperwork and ensure fewer mistakes on early ballots and critics saying it will make it harder for eligible residents to vote, the Ohio House approved legislation aimed at making Ohio's absentee polls more like those on Election Day.
House Bill 41 prompted differing floor comments Wednesday from two lawmakers, one a Republican and one a Democrat, who have launched campaigns for next year's race for secretary of state race.
Among other provisions, the bill would eliminate a requirement that absentee voters complete identification envelopes to submit their ballots.
Those voters would have to provide a driver's license or other allowed identification to confirm their eligibility, just as Election Day voters do now. Completed absentee ballots would be scanned for mistakes before being submitted and held for counting later.
The bill would save election officials money and help alleviate lines, with voters completing the process more quickly, said Rep. Dorothy Pelanda (R-Marysville), primary sponsor of the legislation.
"One county board of election shared with me they believe they can reduce the time it takes to process these voters from three minutes to 30 seconds if these changes are enacted," she said, adding, "All changes contained in HB 41 are intended to allow in-person absentee voters to enjoy the streamlined process of voting that our Election Day voters now enjoy."
Representatives of two county elections boards and the Ohio Association of Election Officials voiced support for the bill during committee deliberations. The League of Women Voters and other voter advocate groups opposed the legislation.
Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) also opposed the bill and tried, unsuccessfully, to remove the ID-related language, saying the requirement would make it harder for some residents to participate in elections.
"This bill is a sneak attack on early voting," she said during Wednesday's floor session. "The current majority party has been trying to roll back early voting since it began in 2008 ... Here we are again. It is simply not true that we have to change the ID law so that we can cut back on paperwork. ..."
She added, "I do not support the smoke and mirrors being used here to tie the ID law to paperwork reduction."
Clyde's amendment was ultimately tabled. HB 41 ultimately passed on an unofficial vote of 63-30 and heads to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.
Pelanda and Clyde are in the running for secretary of state next year, as is Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Hudson).
Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for GateHouse Media. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.