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Will 11th-Hour Ohio Budget Provision Impact Election-Day Operations?

Many Ohio counties will be adopting new voting machines in 2019 and 2020. (Wikimedia Commons)
Many Ohio counties will be adopting new voting machines in 2019 and 2020. (Wikimedia Commons)
July 19, 2019

COLUMBUS, Ohio – There are concerns that a last-minute addition to Ohio's new state biennial budget could threaten democracy.

Gov. Mike DeWine signed House Bill 166 on Thursday, which includes a provision to reduce the minimum number of workers at multi-precinct polling locations on Election Day. Mike Brickner, state director with advocacy group All Voting is Local, contends the need for poll workers is more crucial than ever, as many counties will transition to new voting machines over the next year.

"It's very frustrating, in that we know this could become a perfect storm for problems at the polls in 2020,” says Brickner. “The presidential election is going to have a higher turnout than gubernatorial elections, but we even saw in 2018 record turnout."

Supporters of reducing the number of poll workers point out that Ohio voters are now allowed to use any line in multi-precinct polling locations, so the process is smoother and fewer poll workers are needed.

The Senate had already passed a similar measure (SB 22), and Brickner notes his organization was working with lawmakers to ensure any reduction in poll staffers would not adversely affect voters. He's troubled that this was added to the budget last-minute, with no opportunity for a hearing.

The measure could bring relief to counties that struggle to attract reliable poll workers, and it could also reduce Election Day costs. However, Brickner counters there could be a cost for voters – who might face longer lines and confusion at the polls.

"In 2018, there were several counties and polling locations within those counties that had significant issues – with machine problems, with people casting provisional ballots – that really needed poll workers to help navigate those issues,” says Brickner.

The minimum required number of poll workers at multi-precinct locations will change from four to two. Brickner says voting-rights groups are committed to ensuring voters have the assistance they need.

"Boards of Elections have to approve any poll reductions in their counties,” says Brickner. “And so, voting-rights advocates will be monitoring to make sure that we know of any planned poll reductions, and push back on any that we feel will lead to voters being disenfranchised."

This story was produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH