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Election bills slated for vote by Ohio House panel

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Two election-related proposals poised to be acted upon Tuesday by an Ohio House committee could affect when people vote early and how they get an absentee ballot in the perennial presidential battleground state.

Ohio voters can cast an absentee ballot by mail or in person without giving any reason. Currently, the state's early voting period begins 35 days before Election Day.

One proposal would trim the number of days by eliminating so-called golden week, a time when residents can both register to vote and cast an early ballot. The bill would move the start of early voting to the first day after voter registration ends, which is typically 29 days before Election Day.

More than 59,000 voters cast early, in-person ballots during golden week in the 2012 presidential election, according to estimates from the secretary of state's office. That number does not include residents who voted by mail, though roughly 1.1 million had requested absentee ballots to do so.

State Sen. Frank LaRose, the bill's sponsor, says same-day registration and voting doesn't give boards of elections enough time to properly verify registration applications.

The overlap "perpetuates an election system that is susceptible to voter fraud," LaRose said in written testimony on the bill.

Democrats argue the state should not focus on rolling back early voting opportunities but rather expanding them.

Asked last week about the proposed cut to early voting, Republican Gov. John Kasich declined to say whether he would sign the bill.

"We'll see what the provisions are, and how I feel about it, and what I think is fair," Kasich told members of the Ohio Newspaper Association.

The bill is scheduled for a House committee vote on Tuesday afternoon, along with a separate proposal that would restrict when absentee ballot applications could be sent to voters and who could send them.

If passed, the full House would likely vote of the proposals next week. The Senate has passed both measures.

Traditionally, Ohio's larger, urban counties have mailed voters absentee ballot applications without them having to request the paperwork.

Under the proposal, only the secretary of state could mail unsolicited applications for general elections and only if the Legislature directed the money for it. Other officials would be banned from sending unsolicited applications to voters. It also would prohibit local boards of elections from prepaying the return postage on the applications.

Supporters say the change helps achieve fairness and consistency across county lines. But voter advocates and Democrats argue that not every county is the same.

The bill would allow Secretary of State Jon Husted to mail the applications this fall.

Husted, a Republican, has said he doesn't see the legislation as problematic. His office does not have the money to send applications beyond this year, and the Legislature would have to appropriate the dollars anyway.

"It's become so popular that I would find it highly unlikely that the General Assembly would ever stand in the way of continuing to do it," Husted told reporters last month.

A top Democrat on the House panel has sought to force Husted to testify on the pair of election bills, as well as another proposal on provisional ballots.

In a letter sent last month to the committee's chairman, state Rep. Ron Gerberry said Husted needs to explain to the committee how the changes could be put in place before the November election and that Husted should be subpoenaed.

"It is crucial that we hear from the Secretary's office on these pending bills so that the public may be fully informed about the consequences of an overhaul of Ohio's elections laws," Gerberry wrote in the Jan. 16 letter.

Husted has said his legislative priorities include implementing online voter registration and setting uniform days and hours for early voting.

"Some of the other things they are talking about, frankly, are not my priorities," Husted said last month.

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