Minor changes for safe, fair voting


The clock is ticking on Ohio lawmakers.

Ohioans will start voting for president and other important races in less than five months under pandemic conditions. Nobody knows if coronavirus cases will be under control or flaring up again during early voting in October or on Election Day Nov. 3.

What we do know is Ohio’s strong election system needs tweaking to avoid a repeat of the March primary fiasco when state leaders closed the polls March 17 for health reasons and lawmakers only allowed absentee voting ending April 28. We’re still waiting for official results due this week.

Democrats are understandably urging Ohio to find ways to drastically reduce the number of people who have to vote in person, suggesting that every voter be mailed a postage-paid ballot they can easily return. They also want registration deadlines pushed back and more early voting locations in more populous counties, among other proposals.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Hudson Republican, agrees the state could expand mail and in-person early voting. But he also falsely suggested Democrats proposed the “removal” of in-person voting in a fundraising letter. Such banter is not helpful, especially from Ohio’s chief elections officer.

Ohio needs to quickly adjust its voting rules for November without creating a sea of change that’s too difficult to manage. The mailing of actual ballots, which are different for many precincts, to all Ohioans seems like a hill that’s too high to climb this year.

Three changes would allow Ohioans to vote easily and safely with the option they prefer and maximize the chance of a smooth election.

First, Ohio already has a good vote-by-mail option through its no-fault absentee system that’s been free of any fraud allegations. The problem, as many Ohioans found out this spring, is that you have to fill a paper application and mail it to your board of elections, which then mails your absentee ballot, which you must send back.

LaRose and Democrats agree Ohioans should be able to request the ballots online, greatly streamlining the process, with LaRose telling us he already has the technology in place. He also says federal funds can cover voters’ postage if Ohio lawmakers allow him to use the funding. Voting should be free.

Second, spreading out voters at expanded early voting locations where they can be socially distant makes sense on many levels. State law only allows early voting at each county’s board of elections, which were not designed for that purpose.

Using empty retail locations that could be designed for safety should make people more comfortable with in-person voting. It also might help with staffing, which could be challenging if poll workers, who are often retirees, are reluctant to work amid the coronavirus. Again, Democrats and LaRose support this concept.

We’re also supportive of LaRose’s recommendation to move up the current noon Saturday deadline for requesting absentee ballots for a Tuesday election. The mail system simply can’t work that quickly in most cases.

With time so short, what can’t happen is for Republicans and Democrats to dig in their heels on the false belief that making voting as easy as possible helps liberal causes. It’s a false narrative that needlessly complicates voting reform. It’s up to candidates to motivate their voters to participate.

We don’t want to see a repeat of what happened in Milwaukee where consolidation of primary voting locations led to long lines of voters risking their lives to vote.

Surely, Ohio can do better.

— Akron Beacon Journal, May 16; Online: https://bit.ly/3g5p3y6