voice for democracy

Bob Taft: Proposed voting changes would take Ohio backwards, deny democracy to rural voters – The Columbus Dispatch

Ohioans can take pride in our strong election laws and capable elections administrators.
In 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, Ohio election officials worked to make sure we had a smooth and fair election; and our laws worked well.
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For example, because Ohio law allowed election officials to preprocess mail-in votes, Ohioans knew the winner on election night, unlike our neighbors in Pennsylvania and Michigan. 
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We should be working to build on the success of 2020 by ensuring that every Ohio voter has access to the ballot box.
Unfortunately, some measures introduced in the legislature this year would take us backwards when it comes to election policy.
Creating new hurdles to vote by mail or vote early would impact many often-overlooked communities, including voters with disabilities and voters in rural areas. 
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A new study by the national nonpartisan elections group, Secure Democracy, shows that voting by mail and early in-person voting are increasingly popular among rural voters.
A large majority of voters (60%) in Ohio’s rural areas voted by mail or voted early in-person in the 2020 election. 
Voters in rural areas may live far away from a polling place or need the flexibility to vote early due to work or medical conditions, so it makes sense they would rely on vote by mail and early voting methods.
The report also found that in rural counties with a higher percentage of adults with disabilities, voting by mail was used at an even higher rate. 
Giving voters secure options should not be a partisan issue.
Ohio has a long history of secure and fair voting by mail and early voting practices. Instead of trying to make it harder to cast a ballot by mail or early, we should keep Ohio’s mail voting system strong, allow counties to expand early voting opportunities, let voters request a mail ballot online, and give counties more flexibility to provide secure drop boxes. 
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The new report also documents how modernizing Ohio’s voter registration system can help rural voters, who are less likely to be registered to vote than in urban areas.
Only 84% of eligible Ohioans are registered to vote in rural counties, compared to 91.5% statewide and 95.7% in urban counties.
Automating Ohio’s voter registration process, so eligible Ohioans are registered to vote when they interact with the BMV, can help close the gap for rural voter registration. 
From Cleveland to Cincinnati, Toledo to Marietta, and everywhere in between, Ohio voters deserve an election system that puts them first.
We shouldn’t leave any voter behind when we are creating election policy, whether they live in Dayton or Zanesville.
My hope is that our leaders in Columbus will work together to come up with policies that protect every Ohioan’s ability to participate in our democracy and have their voice heard. 
Republican Bob Taft served as Secretary of State of Ohio and Governor of Ohio. He currently teaches and works on state government internship programs at the University of Dayton.

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