State, county making changes to voting
Westshore voters may notice some changes in how they vote in 2023, thanks to new state requirements and adjustments to ward and precinct boundaries following the 2020 census.
Tony Perlatti, Director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, told members of the Bay Village Democratic Club that the recently enacted House Bill 458 will strengthen the state’s voter identification requirement, reduce time for requesting and returning mail-in ballots, nearly eliminate curb-side voting, and cut the number of days of early voting. Perlatti spoke to Democrats at their Jan. 23 meeting.
In a January news release touting the signing of HB 458 by Governor Mike DeWine, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said the changes will improve Ohio’s voting.
But voting rights and good government advocates say that the changes will make voting harder for some eligible voters, especially lower income Ohioans, older Ohioans, and military personnel.
Under HB 458, voters must show a photo ID, either an Ohio driver’s license, an Ohio-issued ID card, a Department of Defense-issued military ID card, or a passport in order to vote. Previously, voters who did not have a driver’s license or state ID card could confirm their identity by presenting a utility bill, a bank statement, or one of several other approved documents.
For most voters, the change should not be a problem, said Perlatti. Around 98 percent of Cuyahoga County voters already use a driver’s license or state ID, he said.
But as many as 20 percent of Ohio voters age 65 and older do not have the required photo ID, wrote Mark Szabo of the Ohio Veterans Network in an email. They will be ineligible to vote, unless they have a passport or if they obtain a driver’s license or state ID card, both of which can only be obtained by going in-person to a Bureau of Motor Vehicle Deputy Registrar office. The nearest offices for Westshore residents are in North Olmsted and Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood.
Voters most likely to be affected by the reduction in time for accepting mail-in ballots include military personnel and their families serving overseas, wrote Szabo. Previously, mail-in ballots were accepted up to 10 days after an election, provided they were postmarked on or before election day.
But now, under HB 458, that period has been shortened to four days. The deadline for requesting mail-in ballots has also been shortened, from noon on the Saturday before an election to the Tuesday before an election.
LaRose noted that the new deadline will give election workers more time to process mail-in ballot requests. But Perlatti said that moving the deadline from Saturday to Tuesday was more than necessary. “We didn’t need to go all the way to Tuesday,” he said. “Maybe Thursday would have been better.”
Voters should be aware of the new deadlines and make sure they request and return their mail-in ballots early, said Perlatti.
HB 458 also limited the number and operating hours of ballot drop boxes, limited curbside voting to voters with disabilities, and banned county Election Boards from conducting early voting on the Monday before an election, which Perlatti said had typically been the busiest of the early voting days.
District 16 State Representative Bride Rose Sweeney said statehouse Democrats were able to limit the changes Republicans wanted to make to Ohio’s elections. “It is an awful bill,” she said, “but it could have been 10 times worse.”
A lawsuit filed by a group of civic organizations, including the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Ohio Federation of Teachers, Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans, and the Union Veterans Council is challenging HB 458 in court, so the final impact of the bill is yet to be determined.
Bay Democratic Club president Misty Elek said the Democratic Club will closely follow the lawsuit filed in response to HB 458
“We're hopeful that the court will agree that this law violates the constitutional rights of voters, particularly black voters, young voters, seniors, military members, and Ohioans who live overseas," she said.
Some voters will also see changes in their precinct, ward, and in some cases, their voting location, said Perlatti.
Following the 2020 census, communities and the Board of Elections revised ward and precinct boundaries to reflect changes in population. Bay Village will have the same number of wards and precincts, he said, but the lines have shifted somewhat.
Voters will be advised by mail of any changes to their precinct, ward, or voter location, Perlatti said.
Other improvements made by the Board of Elections won’t be apparent to voters, said Perlatti.
The county is currently replacing all of the more than 700 scanners that they use to record votes at the county’s 232 voting locations. Voters will still prepare paper ballots and insert them into the scanners, as before, he said. Paper ballots will still be retained for recounts or other reviews.
The Board also plans to replace all of the county’s electronic pollbooks this year. The new machines will be slightly larger than the current devices, Perlatti said, but will be operated in exactly the same way.
Detailed information regarding voting procedures can be found at the Board of Election’s website at boe.cuyahogacounty.gov. Information about the Bay Village Democratic Club an be found at www.BayDems.com.
Walter Topp is a resident of Bay Village.