House signs off on voting machine legislation

By MARC KOVAC @ohiocapitalblog C-N Capital Bureau Published:

COLUMBUS -- With Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing, the Ohio House signed off on legislation Wednesday to reduce the number of voting machines required of counties during elections and redouble efforts to ensure only eligible Ohioans are casting ballots.

Senate Bill 200, one of a handful of contentious election-related bills moving through the legislature and the last one that will pass before the end of the year, was approved on a vote of 60-32 and now awaits Gov. John Kasich's signature.

The legislation includes law changes related to voting machines and the state's voter registration database.

Under current law, counties are required to have one voting machine for every 175 voters. The latter is calculated by considering the number of registered voters during the previous one or two presidential elections.

SB 200 would require counties to subtract the number of absentee ballots cast when determining the voter ratio, thus lowering the number of machines required in each county, according to an analysis by the state's legislative service commission.

The bill also requires the secretary of state to check national change-of-address information annually instead of biennially for information on voters who have moved.

The bill requires increased data sharing among agencies as part of an effort to maintain the state's voter registration database.

Motor vehicle bureaus will have to submit completed voter registration paperwork to county election boards within five days of receipt.

And the state health director will have to file monthly reports of residents who have died to ensure those individuals' voter registrations are canceled.

Proponents said the legislation is supported by the League of Women Voters and the Ohio Association of Election Officials.

"Eliminating bad records from your database is important for maintaining the voter integrity in the state of Ohio," said Rep. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell. "I encourage support of SB 200."

Rep. Mike Dovilla, R-Berea, added that the legislation is needed to eliminate an "unfunded mandate" on county elections boards for equipment that isn't needed.

"We didn't even use all of our machines this year," said Rep. Margaret Ruhl (R-Mount Vernon), whose home county will have to purchase 42 more voting machines if the law is not changed. "We didn't even use all of our machines this year. It's going to be a huge cost to my county."

But Democrats opposed the bill, saying it would the unnecessary cancellation of voter registrations and potentially longer lines on Election Day due to fewer voting machines at the polls.

"I would like to work across the aisle on an elections bill, I truly would," said Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent). "There are many problems with our election system in the state of Ohio that we could work on together to fix. I stand ready to do so. Unfortunately, SB 200 falls short."

She added later, "How many times do we need to ask people to register to vote? When we will stop erecting burdens in front of voters?"

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