Durbin Chairs Field Hearing on Ohio Voting Law

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] - Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired a field hearing today examining the impact of Ohio’s new voting law, HB 194, which restricts early voting, eliminates the requirement that poll workers direct voters to the proper precinct, and makes it harder to vote absentee. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown joined Durbin at the hearing.


“If the goal of Ohio’s new voting law is to drive down turnout by causing confusion and erecting barriers to the ballot, than the law will undoubtedly be a success,” Durbin said. “Cutting back on early voting, making it difficult for voters to find their polling place and hurting the ability for voters to vote absentee could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Ohio voters. Regardless of how clever or innocuous a new voting law may seem, if it makes it harder or impossible for citizens to cast a ballot, we must speak out and work to get that law modified, repealed, or invalidated by a court of law. And that’s why we’re here in Ohio today.”


“H.B. 194 is a solution in search of a problem. It will repeal a number of common-sense measures that assist Ohioans in voting. For instance, this law eliminates early voting on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday prior to the election, the three busiest days of early voting. This reduction was made despite the fact that in 2008, up to 19 percent of Ohio voters cast their ballots on the weekend prior to the election,” Brown said. “Not only that, but under H.B. 194,  ballot workers will be prohibited from directing voters—who may be their friends, colleagues, or parishioners—to the correct polling location. Rather than protecting the right to vote, HB 194 is a brazen attempt to undermine it. This bill will disenfranchise more Ohioans of their right to vote, and that’s wrong. Our citizens deserve better.”


Ohio’s new law reduces the number of early voting days from 35 to 17, eliminates voting on the weekend before an election, removes the requirement that poll workers direct voters to their proper precinct and prohibits county boards of elections from mailing unsolicited absentee ballots. 


Over 100,000 Ohioans voted the weekend before the 2008 elections, including thousands of African Americans and Latinos who participated in “Souls to the Polls” voter drives the Sunday before Election Day. Eliminating early voting that weekend could disproportionally affect these communities and make it more difficult for tens of thousands of Ohioans to make it to the polls.


Further, the elimination of the requirement that poll workers direct voters to the correct precinct could also cause thousands of ballots to be rejected.  Under Ohio law, if a voter casts their ballot at the wrong precinct, it will not be counted.  Often, there are many “precincts” in one polling place.  As a result, the difference between the right and wrong precinct can come down to a voter being in the right church but at the wrong pew.  Giving poll workers authority to decide which voters they will help get to the right polling location is a recipe for confusion, unequal treatment, and an increase in the number of rejected ballots.  In 2008, over 14,000 otherwise valid ballots were not counted because voters voted at the wrong precinct.


Finally the provision preventing counties from mailing applications for absentee ballots to all registered voters will lead to thousands of voters missing the absentee ballot deadline and potentially not being able to vote.


HB 194 will be subject to a ballot repeal measure in November. 


Over thirty states have new or pending changes to current voting laws. States seeking to change their laws have passed or proposed provisions that significantly reduce the number of early voting days, require voters to show restrictive forms of photo identification before voting and make it harder for volunteer organizations to register new voters. Supporters of these laws argue that they will reduce the risk of voter fraud. The overwhelming evidence, however, indicates that voter fraud is virtually non-existent and that these new laws will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of elderly, disabled, minority, young, rural, and low-income Americans to exercise their right to vote.


Testifying at the hearing were Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH); David Arrendondo, Director of International Student Services, Lorain County Community College; Carrie Davis, League of Women Voters of Ohio – Education Fund; Dale Fellows, Central and Executive Committee Member, Lake County Republican Party; Gregory Moore, Campaign Director, Fair Elections Ohio; Daniel Tokaji, Professor of Law, The Ohio State University.


The Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held a hearing on these new state voting laws in September of last year. In January, the Subcommittee held their first-ever field hearing in Tampa, which examined Florida’s restrictive new voting law.  More information on those hearings can be found here and here