Created on Thursday, 20 February 2014 Written by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Proposals to trim early voting and set rules for mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications cleared the Ohio House on Wednesday amid partisan rancor in the presidential battleground state.
FILE-In this May 21, 2013 file photo, Ted Stevenot, of Clermont County's Union Township carries a "Don't Tread on Me" flag as Cincinnati area Tea Party groups protest the IRS scrutinization of tax-exempt status during a rally in downtown Cincinnati. Ohio's Republican and Democratic gubernatorial front-runners were headed Wednesday toward a primary-free showdown amid complaints both parties got too aggressive in pushing out challengers. The Republican primary field was cleared for first-term Gov. John Kasich earlier in January, when would-be challenger Ted Stevenot, a tea party favorite, left the race less than a week after joining it. (AP Photo/The Cincinnati Enquirer, Gary Landers, File)
Ohioans can cast an absentee ballot by mail or in person without giving any reason. Currently, early voting starts 35 days prior to Election Day.
One bill would cut that time by eliminating so-called golden week — a period when residents can both register to vote and cast an early ballot. Without those days, early voting would then typically start 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 that week.
Supporters say same-day registration and voting doesn't give boards of elections enough time to properly verify registration applications.
Democrats argued the state should not focus on rolling back early voting opportunities but rather expanding them. They accused majority Republicans of making it more difficult to vote.
"This is a good bill," said state Rep. Andy Brenner, a Powell Republican. "There's no voter suppression, it's common sense."
Republican House Speaker William Batchelder cut off debate on both bills over objections from Democrats — some of whom stood to demand that the discussion be allowed to continue.
A separate bill would let the secretary of state mail unsolicited applications for general elections and only if the Legislature directed the money for it. Other public officials would be banned. It also would prohibit local boards of elections from prepaying the return postage on the applications.
Ohio's larger, urban counties traditionally have sent voters the applications without residents requesting them.
Republican backers say the change helps achieve fairness and consistency across county lines. But voter advocates and Democrats argue that not every county is the same.
"I haven't really heard a good reason for these bills," said state Rep. Connie Pillich, a Montgomery Democrat.
The House passed the absentee-application proposal on a 59-36 vote. The early-voting trim passed on a 58-36 vote.
The Senate will have to agree to the House changes to the bills before they could go to the governor.