Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a pair of laws Friday to cut the early voting period and limit the eligibility of absentee ballots.
Democrats have promised court challenges to the laws, which eliminates the five-day “golden period” when residents could register to vote and cast early ballots on the same day and also prohibits county officials from mailing out absentee ballots to eligible voters.
About 59,000 Ohioans cast ballots during the “golden period” in 2012, and 1.3 million cast absentee ballots.
A spokesman for the Republican Kasich said the changes make absentee voting rules more uniform, adding that Ohio’s early voting period is still longer than 40 other states under the new restrictions.
Senate Bill 238, which was sponsored by Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Fairlawn), reduces the number of days an absentee ballot may be case by mail or in person from 35 days to 29 days before an election.
Senate Bill 205, sponsored by Sen. Bill Coley (R-West Chester), prohibits any public official other than the secretary of state from mass-mailing absentee ballot applications to registered voters, and only in even-numbered years and with funding appropriated by the General Assembly.
The bill also increases the number of items required to allow absentee ballots to be counted and prohibits election workers from assisting voters unless they are disabled or illiterate.
“This means that voters in nursing homes will no longer be able to receive assistance from bipartisan teams, making it harder for seniors to vote,” said state Rep. Debbie Phillips (D-Albany). “The new rules will likely lead to an increase in the number of overseas military ballots that are thrown out for minor paperwork errors. This is unconscionable, inexcusable and likely illegal under the voting rights acts.”
The changes are supposed to go into effect in 90 days unless they are blocked through lawsuits.
Both measures were sponsored and passed by Republican lawmakers, including one who wondered aloud why the state should “cater to” voters who are unwilling or unable to get to a polling place unless someone drives them there “after church on Sunday.”
Critics say the changes will make it harder for elderly voters and voters in urban area to cast ballots – which usually go toward Democratic candidates.
Jon Husted, the Republican Secretary of State, cast a tie-breaking vote Friday to move the Hamilton County Board of Elections office from downtown Cincinnati to suburban Mount Airy, about 10 miles away and with fewer public transportation options.
Husted suggested Hamilton County officials to improve bus service to the new location by 2017, when the change goes into effect.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]