Two weeks after a Republican-backed voting law significantly reshaped Ohio’s election procedure, local officials, advocates and voters are still making sense of the changes — and how the alterations could restrict who might cast ballots in 2024.
Legal challenges of the law could further complicate the situation: A federal lawsuit brought against Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose by groups representing the homeless, teachers, seniors and veterans argues the restrictions are unconstitutional and suppress votes. Other advocacy groups told The Washington Post that they are considering legal action, too.
The legislation, which is now one of the most restrictive voter-ID laws in the country, comes as GOP-led legislatures are increasingly revamping their voting apparatuses following unfounded complaints of fraud by former president Donald Trump after he lost in 2020. Republican state leaders who support the law have argued that it is necessary to quicken the pace of ballot counting and to reduce fraud, even though Ohio’s secretary of state assessed the state’s 2020 election was legitimate.
Meanwhile, the aftershocks of the bill’s Jan. 6 signing by Gov. Mike DeWine (R) have been felt across the spectrum as groups representing people with suspended licenses, the disabled and more have brought up questions about potential hurdles for voting.
“Every day there’s something that comes out that we are learning more about,” said Kayla Griffin, state director for Ohio’s All Voting is Local chapter.
For instance, Hanna Detwiler, spokeswoman of the Franklin County recorder, was preparing material for an upcoming veterans’ event when she scanned the latest major election law passed by the state’s Republicans and noticed an issue. The law restricted the identification of former military members registering to vote to just a Department of Veterans Affairs-issued ID, meaning the county-issued IDs some veterans are accustomed to showing could no longer be used. No state official had reached out to the county office before or after the discovery, she said.
“If we hadn’t stumbled on the fine print of the bill, we would have had no idea, no opportunity to let people know that this no longer works as voter ID,” Detwiler said.
The office shared the news of the change on social media Tuesday and will notify every cardholder, Detwiler said.
“This is the beginning of sounding the alarm and reaching out to veterans,” she said.
Other groups say they are still learning about the contents of the law before they update voters. The 165-page bill came up in the final days of the legislative session, passing in the House overnight, a day after a major overhaul in the Senate. The League of Women Voters of Ohio said they testified against the bill only once before its passage. Now, they are coordinating with other groups to interpret the law’s “gray areas.”
“We don’t really practically know all the impacts of this bill until the dust settles a little more,” said Jen Miller, who leads the League of Women Voters of Ohio. “It’s still as clear as mud.”
Before the new law, Ohio required voters to show identification at the polls, but it accepted a number of alternatives, including a utility bill, paystub or other documentation that could prove a person’s identity and residence. Now, the only acceptable forms include an Ohio driver’s license, state ID card, interim identification form, U.S. passport or federal military ID card.
And the ID cannot be expired. The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland found that an estimated 1 million Ohioans had suspended driver’s licenses between 2016 and 2020 because of debts, such as a lack of insurance, unpaid fines and court costs. Those people in impoverished minority communities could face more difficulties getting their licenses reinstated or a state-issued ID in Ohio.
“With millions of people having suspended licenses, it really could be a much larger impact on the number of eligible voters in Ohio than I suspect anybody anticipated,” said Anne Sweeney, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.
The new law also reduces the number of days county election boards can count mailed ballots from 10 days after Election Day to four. Critics of the law argue that could restrict the counting of ballots from military members stationed outside of Ohio.
It also prohibits curbside voting — the practice of casting ballots from cars or outside polling places that was popularized during the coronavirus pandemic — unless the voter is “physically unable” to enter the building. Kevin Truitt, the legal advocacy director of Disability Rights Ohio, said that might be interpreted to restrict people with a disability that doesn’t physically prevent them from going into a polling station but could make it more difficult, such as an immune-compromised person or someone with sensory disabilities who might struggle in large crowds or narrow spaces.
“It’s concerning that we’re moving in this direction of narrowing access to voters with disabilities instead of finding ways to be more inclusive and accessible,” Truitt said.
With the legal help of Democratic lawyer Marc Elias, Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Ohio Federation of Teachers, Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans and Union Veterans Council sued LaRose, arguing the restrictions make it harder for people who have limited time or forms of ID to cast their ballots and calling the law “an all-sides attack on the voting process.” The lawsuit cites LaRose’s earlier assessment that 2020’s election was safe and secure with “a 99.98% accuracy rate.”
Asked about the lawsuit, LaRose’s office referred The Post to the statement LaRose shared after the law’s signing, which defended the restrictions and noted the popularity of stricter voter-ID laws in polling. A Monmouth University poll in January last year found that 80 percent of Americans supported “requiring voters to show a photo ID” to vote. On the other hand, Arizonans rejected a ballot measure in 2022 to restrict acceptable forms of ID, a shocking loss for a historically red state.
“Ohioans are clearly supportive of strict photo ID for voting, and we have found a common-sense way to make it happen that ensures voters are not disenfranchised,” LaRose said. “No piece of legislation is a silver-bullet solution, but we are once again showing Ohioans that we take their concerns seriously and are dedicated to continuously improving our elections.”
In a tweet, LaRose pointed to the less restrictive ID law in Texas that was upheld.
However, other courts have struck down state voter identification laws in North Carolina and Montana.
Abha Khanna, lead attorney for the groups suing LaRose, said the secretary has not made clear why the stricter voter law was needed — especially after declaring the state’s 2020 election was safe.
“I’m assuming that the legislature would enact laws they believe are solving problems,” Khanna said. “Where the secretary has previously disclaimed any such problem, it is puzzling why he would then endorse this purported solution.”
At a conference of 650 election officials held last week in Columbus, participants peppered LaRose with questions about the specifics of the law as they await more detailed rules from his office, said Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, a bipartisan group.
“The secretary of state’s folks were generally saying, ‘We’re reading this for the first time just like you,’” Ockerman said. “'We don’t have all the answers today. But it’s good to know what’s on your mind and you can absolutely count on a lot more communication from our office as we figure this out.’”
Liz Avore, an election expert tracking states’ revamps at Voting Rights Lab, said that while the law makes Ohio an outlier in terms of strictness, it has also joined a trend of states moving in the same direction.
Since 2020, eight states, now including Ohio, have made their voting-ID laws stricter, Avore said.
Thirty-five states ask voters to show a form of ID at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which groups the states by strict and non-strict. Ohio joins eleven other states in the strict column.
Avore said the law also touches upon a deepening divide across the country, as Republican-led states have restricted mail-in voting after Trump claimed the batches of mailed-in ballots were fraudulent in the states where he lost. In bluer states, the remote method of voting more widely used during the pandemic has expanded.
“Most folks across the country are experiencing changes in terms of their access to mail voting,” Avore said.