The battle over election laws in Ohio escalated Wednesday as Democrats and Republicans took aim at each other.
Democrats in the Ohio House in Cincinnati kicked off their statewide tour to rally voters against a bill that would change early voting in Ohio. The Republican sponsor of the bill, Rep. Bill Seitz, a Green Township Republican, called the Democrats’ roadshow the “disinformation and confusion tour.”
It’s a battle being waged nationwide, with Republican legislation to overhaul election laws in Texas, Georgia and elsewhere grabbing national headlines. Now the battle has reached Ohio.
On Wednesday night, nine Democratic members of the Ohio House sat in a meeting room of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio in Avondale. It was a town hall they called “Freedom to Vote.”
The Democratic lawmakers told the 40 people who showed up, mostly neighborhood, civil rights and Democratic activists, they felt ignored by the Republican majority in the Ohio General Assembly.
They want the public to help oppose the Republican-led efforts to change the state’s election laws.
“Tonight, democracy is on the line,” said Rep. Tavia Galonski, D-Akron. “This is the most important place where I could be today. I’m just proud to be here, and I hope you will all share with us what we need to be doing to fight this anti-voter bill.”
The people who showed up vowed to travel to Columbus and write letters to fight the bill.
“If these restrictions move forward, they will not be the last to be put before the state,” said Alissa Mayhaus. The 33-year-old White Oak resident is a member of the Westside Democratic Club. “We cannot allow this to move forward. Thank you for taking action. I’m angry and ready to fight with you.”
The Democratic lawmakers outlined concerns the bill, known as House Bill 294, will lead to fewer ballots being counted and suppress votes.
Ohio’s bill would eliminate voting on the day before Election Day, limit the use of ballot drop boxes to the 10 days before the election and require voters to request a ballot 10 days before the election rather than three.
The bill would also allow voters to request absentee ballots online.
Republicans said it’s not about voter suppression. They’re putting into law election practices that weren’t in Ohio law before. That includes drop boxes, Seitz said. They also pointed out that while early voting will close the day before Election Day, the number of early voting days remains the same, at 28.
Democrats at the town hall Wednesday night said they didn’t see any reason for the Republican changes other than voter suppression.
Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, a Democrat from Cleveland, blamed President Donald Trump and the Republicans’ refusal to accept the 2020 election results, which she called the Big Lie.
“It’s all connected to the idea of the Big Lie and what happened Jan. 6, and we need to be honest about that conversation,” Sweeney said Wednesday.
The sponsors of the bill, Seitz and Rep. Sharon Ray, R-Wadsworth, called a press conference hours earlier on Wednesday. Seitz took aim at a talking points memo circulated among House Democrats that outlined words Democrats should not to use when talking about the voting bill: “fraud,” “security,” “secure,” “easy,” and “voter suppression.”
“Now any party that will not even acknowledge the need to have secure elections, the need to root out fraud in elections…any party that would go to those lengths deserves absolutely no credibility on election law,” Seitz said.
As House Bill 294 makes its way through the legislature, expect to see busloads of Democrats from Cincinnati make their way to Columbus to protest. Cincinnati NAACP President Joe Mallory told the lawmakers and group on Wednesday that the NAACP plans on renting a bus when it’s time for the public to testify before the legislature on the bill.
“We’re trying to fight for our rights to vote,” Mallory said. “We will be in Columbus.”
The biggest applause of the night came after a speech from 9-year-old Amara Brookins, of North College Hill. She’s the cousin of Cincinnati civil rights activist Iris Roley, who accompanied her to the podium.
She advocated for online voting.
“In nine years, I will be old enough to vote,” Brookins said. “So can you please spend some time between now and then figuring out how I can vote safely online.”
The Democrats have four more town halls scheduled between Wednesday and Monday. They’ll be in Columbus Thursday, Akron on Friday, Cleveland on Saturday and Toledo on Monday.