Time to stop making voting harder


Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose tends to dispel the idea that Republicans want to discourage easy voting, but his partisan colleagues in the Statehouse and elsewhere seem determined to reinforce it.

In June, Republican lawmakers flirted with significantly cutting voting access via a bill that would have eliminated the final weekend of early in-person voting before the Nov. 3 election and would have barred LaRose from sending absentee ballot applications to registered voters. LaRose didn’t favor either of those cutbacks.

The Dispatch long has contended that both the voter fraud claimed by some Republicans and the voter suppression claimed by some Democrats are virtually nonexistent, but it’s getting harder to avoid the conclusion that some Republicans flat-out want to make voting harder.

Why else reduce early-voting days — the most popular ones, in fact — in the middle of a public-health emergency, and why forbid mailing absentee ballot applications when your Republican secretary of state wants to do it and has federal funds for it and such mailings have become common practice in even-year elections in Ohio?

Ohio is fortunate that those provisions were beaten back, but neither opposition Democrats nor LaRose has been able to move lawmakers toward other changes needed to ensure an inclusive election in this chaotic year.

The fact that the secretary of state’s office will be mailing every registered voter an absentee ballot request is great, but many voters would like to get one sooner — with COVID-19 concerns seemingly changing daily and President Donald Trump and his allies actively undermining the U.S. Postal Service, you can’t be too careful.

But getting an absentee ballot in Ohio requires voters to snail-mail an application to the secretary of state’s office and wait for the office to snail-mail the ballot back. There is no reason voters shouldn’t be able to apply for a ballot online, and LaRose has urged lawmakers to approve it, but Republicans have refused.

Voting advocates clash with LaRose on this one; they say the law doesn’t prohibit an online application and he should simply create one, but he insists he needs a law change. The same goes for allowing more than one drop box per county for people who want to deliver their absentee ballots in person. LaRose has ordered every county board of elections to have a drop box at its office, but maintains he can’t allow more than one without legislative action.

Illustrating the political divide, Franklin County’s all-Democratic Board of Commissioners last week called on LaRose to allow more secure drop boxes while their Delaware County counterparts, all Republicans, urged the opposite.

LaRose has come up with a good response for critics on the drop box issue: He’s asking the state Controlling Board to allow him to spend $3 million, available in his own budget, to prepay the postage for returning absentee ballots — another obvious convenience blocked by Statehouse Republicans. If the Controlling Board takes the high road and approves use of the funds, then LaRose says every blue U.S. mailbox in the state will, in effect, be a free ballot drop box.

Whether the Trump administration will make good on its promise to stop removing mailboxes and otherwise sabotaging the Postal Service is another question.

However imperfect in the view of Democrats, LaRose’s voting-access efforts are commendable. And the consistent obstruction by other Republicans tends toward voter suppression.

— Columbus Dispatch; Online: https://bit.ly/34z9zz2