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Ohio Legislature erred with its hasty decision

Ohio’s recently rescheduled primary election by mail hastily drawn up by state legislators against recommendations of the state’s top elections official and other voter organizations, will create a cumbersome situation with major obstacles for county boards of elections.

That is not to mention it also likely will discourage many voters from casting ballots. When that occurs in this very important presidential election year, members of Ohio’s state Legislature who voted to approve the measure can blame themselves.

But it is voters who will suffer.

We are disappointed at our Ohio General Assembly for ignoring the experts, delaying voting by only six weeks, creating a nearly unachievable timeframe, and replacing in-person voting with a complicated mail-only process. In times of crisis, Ohio voters deserve to know their democracy remains sound. This mess falls short of any such reassurance.

The fact is, a letter sent from Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose on March 21 — days before the state Legislature acted to pass HB 197 extending the election until April 28 — implored all members of Ohio’s General Assembly not to set an election date earlier than June 2.

“No date before June 2nd is logistically possible. We simply cannot put a postage-paid absentee ballot request in the hands of each eligible voter and afford them reasonable time to cast a ballot any earlier. A plan that does not afford every Ohioan an opportunity to vote free of charge would be unconstitutional,” LaRose wrote.

The Legislature ignored LaRose’s urging, as well as that of other voting experts, and instead moved with haste to establish April 28 as the deadline for voting by mail. The bill’s passage was unanimous, and the governor signed it almost immediately.

Now, under the new law, LaRose’s office is designing and mailing informational postcards explaining how to obtain an absentee ballot, rather than sending applications automatically. As part of the clunky plan, voters also may print the application themselves, or ask their county board to send one, then pay their own postage to send it back. If all goes as planned, voters will receive a ballot via mail and return it? all by April 27. LaRose estimates the postcards alone won’t hit mailboxes until the second week of April.

In the days following the health order to delay the March 17 election, some legislators expressed frustration at the last-minute decision. But let’s make no mistake, while the administration may make decisions during crisis, it is only the legislature that may change the date of an election. Given that, as this pandemic grew in the days leading up to March 17, it was the Ohio Legislature that was asleep at the switch by failing to act to postpone the election and start debate as to when it should have been rescheduled.

Even in times of health crisis, democracy must not be abandoned. Ohio voters need to know that. Unfortunately, this legislative rush job appears to send a message to the contrary.

editorial@tribtoday.com

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