House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) speaks to reporters after session on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.
House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) speaks to reporters after session on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. [Karen Kasler | Statehouse News Bureau]

Voter Rights Groups File Challenge to Ohio Primary Absentee Extension

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The ACLU of Ohio has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Ohio claiming the new absentee voting extension is “cumbersome.”

The Ohio House and Ohio Senate set the absentee voting deadline at April 28 through HB197. This sets the end date of the primary much earlier than the June 2 date laid out by Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

The current absentee voting process would require LaRose’s office to send postcards informing voters about the absentee voting extension. Voters can print out and mail an absentee ballot request or call their local board of elections and ask them to mail one to them. Then that voter can fill-out an absentee ballot application and send it back to the local board of elections. That request would be processed and an absentee ballot would be sent.

Jen Miller with the League of Women Voters says this is a multi-step process that relies on several transactions through the postal service. She says this doesn’t give voters enough time to cast a ballot by April 28.

“Ohio’s vote by mail system is not set up to be implemented in a short time frame that serves millions of Ohioans at once,” says Miller.

The lawsuit asks the court to:

  • Order county board of elections to directly mail primary ballots to all registered voters who have not already cast a ballot
  • Allow voters who do not receive a ballot in time to vote at the board of elections
  • Select a new election date that would “allow elections officials enough time to effectively administer the election and inform voters about how the primary election will proceed”
  • Set the voter registration date 30 days prior to the new primary date

House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) says they agreed to the April 28 date so Democrats would have enough time to seat presidential delegates for their convention. He added that voters who were disappointed that they were not able to vote in-person on March 17 will be ready to cast a ballot through this process.

“The folks that want to vote, I think they’re probably anxious to vote. They were ready to go on Election Day and cast their ballots,” Householder said after the House passed the bill with the absentee voting extension. “And so, when it comes in, I think those people that chose to vote are waiting anxiously and they’ll probably cast those ballots and they’ll do it in a timely fashion.”

LaRose’s office issued a statement in response to the lawsuit.

Maggie Sheehan, spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office says, “While Secretary LaRose is the named defendant in today’s action, it is ultimately H.B. 197 – which passed the Ohio General Assembly with unanimous, bipartisan votes in both the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate – that is being challenged. His sworn duty as Secretary of State is to carry out the law as the legislature crafts it on behalf of Ohio voters and to give them confidence in Ohio’s elections.”