COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would prevent any state official from changing the time, place or manner of the election.
Senate President Larry Obhof said the language, inserted as an amendment\u200b to an unrelated bill on Wednesday, is meant to assert that Ohio will offer in-person voting this November.
But if it becomes law, it would prevent a repeat of what happened earlier this year, when Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration ordered polls closed \u200b24 hours before Ohio’s scheduled March 17 primary Election Day, citing the then-new coronavirus pandemic.
State lawmakers ended up extending a vote-by-mail period through April 28, with only very limited offerings for in-person voting. Legislators have been mixed in their assessments of whether DeWine did the right thing given the circumstances, but have said they want to have a plan in place to prevent something similar from happening in the future.
“I don’t think the intent of this paragraph is meant to stop us from considering other elections changes over the next few months, but I think it was important that we protect having an in-person election date this fall,” said Obhof, a Medina Republican.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, has called for other elections changes, including allowing for Ohioans to apply for a mail-in ballot online instead of having to submit a paper form.
The bill the Senate passed Wednesday includes only one exception — for an existing law that allows Ohio’s governor to postpone an election due to an “enemy attack.”
The Senate on Wednesday also approved an amendment that would bar any public official from ordering a statewide closure of places of worship, or ordering closed in a geographic area.
Ohio churches never have been ordered closed, having been exempted from Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton’s coronavirus closure orders.
But other states, including Kentucky, did close churches during the coronavirus pandemic. Obhof said he wants to prevent future Ohio governors from doing the same.
The changes were added to House Bill 272, which deals with granting standing to individual Ohioans to challenge state laws on constitutional grounds. The House would have to sign off on the changes for the bill to be sent to DeWine’s desk.