COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX) — Zach Roberts doesn't mince words about what he sees as the impact of sweeping changes in election law this week by Ohio Republican legislators:
"It’s going to disenfranchise military ballots – full stop," he told WSYX 6 On Your Side.
Roberts is a senior non-commissioned officer with the Air National Guard but speaking as the organizer of the Ohio Veterans Network. The Dayton resident is singling out a little-noticed revision that cuts almost a week out of the period after Election Day that legal mail ballots can arrive and still be counted.
"The 10-day window has worked for us for a long time," he said. "I don’t see the need to shrink it down to four. Even in the handful of counties that we’ve been able to share the information with, we can see that it would have caused real harm to people. The worst thing that we can do is to have service members end up being casualties to an unnecessary attack on Ohio’s election system."
Republican lawmakers who passed the six-day reduction -- jammed into a bill originally intended only to virtually eliminate August special primaries -- justify the change using misinformation spread about election totals in other states.
"Certainly after the past few elections we’ve seen things across the country where people have had concerns about the election results as they change and we want to make sure we’re doing everything right here in Ohio," Sen. Theresa Gavarone, a Bowling Green Republican who chairs the committee in which the reduction was introduced, said,
The most vocal source of those "concerns" has been former President Donald Trump and his supporters. Elections experts have repeatedly debunked claims that anything untoward is happening when results from election night shift once additional legal ballots -- mailed before Election Day, but not arriving until afterward -- are included with the running totals.
Gavarone's committee voted to eliminate Ohio's current 10-day window to receive mail ballots after Election Day. She said Ohio voters living overseas -- including active-duty troops -- should be encouraged to mail their votes earlier so they don't miss the tighter deadline.
The bipartisan Ohio Association of Election Officials opposed the GOP plan, saying it "would disenfranchise a significant number of qualified electors, including military and overseas voters.” The group suggested a seven-day window as a compromise, but Republicans settled on four.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a veteran himself, wouldn’t directly address the new provision. He said through a spokesman he supports the overall measure that contains the controversial change. (The overall bill also mandates photo ID to vote, another requirement opposed by the association, made up of Democratic and GOP elections officials across Ohio.)
“While no legislation is ever perfect, the House and Senate leaders listened to many of our concerns and made some improvements to the bill," LaRose said in a texted statement. "We’ll continue to work with them on other items that either need to be clarified or didn’t make it into the final version. Overall, the legislature approved some much-needed reforms that will benefit both voters and elections officials, while continuing to make Ohio one of the most honest and accessible voting states in the nation. We’re proud to be the gold standard of elections, and we look forward to working with the new General Assembly to deliver on that reputation.”
LaRose's spokesman took issue with an initial estimate that thousands of military voters would be disenfranchised, saying just 623 legal ballots in last month’s election were returned after the new deadline.
The bill is before Gov. Mike DeWine to sign or veto. Democrats have urged him to do the latter.
Why of course this isn't about abortion or redistricting...
LaRose was part of another election-law dust-up as well.
He and state Rep. Brian Stewart of Ashville were strongly advocating a plan to require 60% voter approval to amend the Ohio Constitution. They insisted the proposal rolled out last month was not designed to head off anticipated attempts perhaps as soon as next year to pass amendments that would legalize abortion in Ohio and to revamp how congressional and legislative district lines are drawn.
During a press conference in which the 60% threshold proposal was unveiled, LaRose and Stewart were asked if their push was merely an attempt to head off the abortion and redistricting amendments.
LaRose said such criticism was short-sighted; the effort was about the importance of amending Ohio's basic governing document for decades to come.
"Anybody that’s thinking about shorter or more transient goals in the next year or two years or three years, that’s not what this kind of change should ever be about," he said. "If this is about one specific issue, then somebody’s not really focused on what we’re trying to accomplish here."
Yet even after GOP House members could not muster enough votes to give the measure its required 60% majority, Stewart made one last pitch as the legislature met for the final time this year on Wednesday.
His stated reasons why Republicans should support the proposal?
To head off possible amendments on abortion and redistricting.
"After decades of Republicans’ work to make Ohio a pro-life state, the Left intends to write abortion on demand into Ohio’s Constitution. If they succeed, all the work accomplished by multiple Republican majorities will be undone, and we will return to 19,000+ babies being aborted each and every year," Stewart wrote.
Here's what he said about the threat from a possible constitutional amendment on redistricting:
"Unable to win a statewide election, Democrats now intend to rewrite Ohio’s Constitution to put Maureen O’Connor and other unelected liberals in charge of drawing legislative districts, affecting not only the Ohio legislature but control of the United States House of Representatives as well."
O'Connor is the outgoing chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court whom some Republicans wanted to impeach because their fellow party member sided with the seven-member court's three Democrats to repeatedly rule GOP-proposed districts as unconstitutional.
Even though LaRose and Stewart fell short in their attempt to get their proposal on the May primary ballot -- which if approved would have put the 60% barrier in place for any abortion or redistricting amendment proposals in the November 2023 election -- the Pickaway County lawmaker pledged to keep trying in the new year. That's when Republicans will have an even-larger majority in the General Assembly.