Today, Senators Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) and Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) issued a strong condemnation of the overt voter suppression that took place in Kentucky, and made clear that similar attempts to stop Ohioans from voting must not be tolerated.
"Republican officials in other states have used COVID-19 as an excuse to close polling locations. Their actions created mass confusion and impossibly long lines in areas where minority populations vote. No matter how you try to frame these closures, the outcome is always the same," said Senator Sykes.
"They know exactly what they're doing, and so do we. We cannot and will not allow such tactics to be used here in Ohio. Ohioans must be able to vote."
Under the guise of COVID concerns, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose has been urging the closure of Ohio polling locations and "consolidation" of resources, which would almost certainly create the same Election Day chaos that has occurred in other states.
LaRose's proposal for November's election ominously states, "It’s time to reevaluate the requirements placed on boards of elections for the numbers of poll workers and machines required on election day.”
Jackson County, Ohio, has already announced that they will be cutting the number of polling locations in the county from 13 to five.
The announcement caused significant confusion throughout the county and required clarification from local officials.
"Jackson County residents will now be forced to travel longer distances in order to vote, and risk standing in lines at the polls during a pandemic. Longtime residents who have voted in the same location for years will find themselves confused on Election Day, not thinking they need to check their voting location in advance," said Senator Antonio.
"We cannot allow anyone to normalize closing polling locations. Nor can we ignore that consolidation causes confusion, reduces voter participation, and is counter to prescribed social distancing during the current pandemic.”
Senators Sykes and Antonio warned against the troubling language Ohio officials have been using to make polling location closures appear not only logical, but effective.
In December, SoS LaRose told a group in Newark that "Consolidating polling locations is an efficiency improvement. You have a lot of opportunities in Ohio to vote from the comfort of home by mail. It's easy to do right now. Anyone who tells otherwise is simply not telling the truth."
However, the senators note, voting by mail is anything but easy under current Ohio law.
Voters must request their ballots by mail rather than online.
They must pay for postage to mail in a request form,
wait for their application to be accepted and a ballot to be mailed back,
then pay for postage to return the ballot.
Many Ohioans struggled to complete this full process during the primary, which likely exacerbated the decrease in voter turnout.
Ohio Senate Democrats will continue to advocate for improvements to simplify Ohio's absentee voter process, while fighting hard against the closure of polling locations.