Activists from the Urban League and Cincinnati NAACP bused themselves to Columbus on Thursday to oppose House Bill 294, which would place new time limits on early voting in person and via mail.
“It interferes with the right of people to vote freely,” said Freeman McNeal, who demonstrated against the legislation.
The bill, also known as the Ohio Election Security and Modernization Act, would end in-person voting on the Monday before an election and require absentee voters to mail their ballots 10 days prior to Election Day, among other changes.
Right now, ballots are counted as long as they are postmarked at least three days before the election.
The bill would also automate voter registration through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which proponents described as a process that would make registration easier.
But demonstrators outside the Capitol on Thursday rankled at the time limits attached to the legislation, many explicitly connecting the bill to others propagating more restrictive voting measures across the country.
“This is part of a national effort to suppress the vote,” said Rickell Smith, executive director of the Urban League’s Center for Social Justice. She added: “In 2021, our legislators should be doing everything they can to expand our voting rights. It should be easier, not harder.”
The battle over voting rights — whether Republican-backed bills touting themselves as election security measures will lock many eligible voters out of the process, whether Democrat-backed bills expanding access expose the electoral system to a greater risk of fraud — is playing out on a national level, including in Washington.
President Biden and other Democrats have pledged to pass expanded federal voting rights legislation. Congressional Republicans blocked one such bill, the For the People Act, with a filibuster on Tuesday.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, said he doesn’t believe House Bill 294 lives up to the scale of opponents’ fears.
“The fact is both fraud and suppression are rare,” he said. “We have to work to keep it that way, and this hyperbolic rhetoric… really just does a disservice. When you take a breath and look at what’s actually in the bill, it doesn’t hold up to that type of hype or rhetoric.”
The people who demonstrated in Columbus on Thursday — many from Cincinnati, more from across the state — disagree.
They plan to return when opposition testimony is rescheduled later in the year.