TO: Members of the Oversight Committee, Ohio House of Representatives
My name is Tammy Bennett and I am testifying on behalf of EquaSion, a Cincinnati-based, non partisan civic organization that involves more than 30 faith traditions representing 14 world religions in its efforts to promote inclusion, equity and justice for all. I serve on EquaSion’s board of directors.
I am testifying against HB 294 primarily for the reasons set forth below.
On November 2, 2020, Ohio’s Secretary of State LaRose stated that the estimated 3.4 million Ohioans who voted early by absentee ballot or in person shattered previous records. Now, if passed, rather than to improve upon this success and continue to expand access and modern conveniences to eligible Ohio voters, the overall effect of HB 294 would restrict access to this fundamental right. While the bill provides some positive, constructive provisions, in totality it disproportionately limits voting access for Black and Brown communities.
Here are a few of the provisions that significantly harm Black and Brown communities along with the elderly, disabled and impoverished.
HB 294 codifies a 2020 restriction limiting the number of ballot drop boxes to one per county located only at the Board of Elections. This means that larger, more diverse urban counties are limited in the number of ballots that can be collected via drop box. There is a lack of known, verifiable security or integrity risk posed by ballot drop boxes. Further, HB 294 reduces the number of days the drop boxes are available from 30 to 10. Reducing the number of early voting days does not preserve, expand and/or modernize voting access rather such provisions restrict Ohioans’ from exercising their fundamental right.
In addition to reducing ballot drop box availability, the bill also reduces the number of early voting days and hours. Significantly, the bill eliminates one of the most popular early votes days, the Monday before Election Day. It does so in spite of a record setting turnout in 2020 and with high voter turnout in prior years on this date. The legislative purpose behind the cancellation is to prepare for Election Day. This rationale does not pass muster. Preparation for an event should not take precedent over active participation in the event. Here, the bill contemplates preparation is more important than actually allowing citizens to cast their votes. Again, every provision in a bill proposing to modernize the voting process ought to expand opportunities not restrict them.
According to the Secretary of State’s website, in 2020, Ohioans submitted nearly 3.8 million applications for absentee ballots. Following this record success in 2020, HB 294 attempts to restrict the number of absentee ballots by moving the deadline up seven days, which serves no apparent purpose other than to limit the number of absentee ballots.
Additionally, other provisions of the bill further restrict Ohioans’ access to vote, including, by the way of example, requiring two forms of voter ID for registration and limiting the existing ability of the Ohio Secretary of State to prepay postage on election mail.
Even assuming, for the sake of an argument, that the bill is well-intended, its passage would disproportionately harm Black and Brown communities and negatively affect equity work. Its passage would deepen injustices by restricting the “vote-voice” of historically marginalized groups rather than promote racial equity and end systemic injustices.
In closing, I urge you to reject HB 294 in its present form and at the very least delete from its provisions those proposals that restrict voter access and are detrimental to the civic participation of our minority communities.
Thank you for your consideration.
Tammy Bennett, Attorney at Law, Member, Board of Directors
9830 Tollgate Lane, Cincinnati, OH 45242; (513) 806-9650