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New Ohio bill would close primaries and change the voter registration process

Voters cast ballots at the Franklin County Board of Elections on March 15, 2020. Two days later, the polls were closed for the primary statewide because of the pandemic and all voting was done by mail.
Karen Kasler

There's a new bill under consideration by Ohio lawmakers that would make some key changes to the current voter registration process. Sen. Michele Reynolds (R-Canal Winchester) is the sponsor of the bill. She said Ohio's current system of voter registration is archaic.

"We need to modernize the way we do voter registration," Reynolds said.

How would her bill do that?

For starters, it would close primaries in Ohio. Right now, a voter can go into a polling place and vote in the party primary they choose on that day. After doing that, they are considered a member of that party until they vote in a different party's primary. Voters can also be considered unaffiliated years after they stop voting in primaries. Reynolds wants the registration process to be more like some other states, where voters declare a political party when they register. And she said it contains a provision that would no longer allow Ohioans to choose their party affiliation when they go to vote.

"It closes our primary system so whoever is registered within 30 days of the election, whatever party they are affiliated with, they are able to vote in that party's primary," Reynolds said. "But they are not allowed to vote in that party's primary if they are not affiliated with that party."

In the past, there have been complaints about voters switching affiliations on the day of a primary election in an effort to manipulate the results. This bill, Reynolds says, would stop that from happening.

"A primary is really about electing who is going to emerge so that they can be the general candidate in the general election and so really the only people who should be voting in that election are the people who are affiliated with that party," Reynolds said.

Reynolds adds that her bill also helps make sure people who are registered with a party actually support the candidates aligned with that party. And, she said, it helps protect the integrity of the data those candidates use.

"It helps our data because now when candidates are knocking doors and candidates are trying to compile who they are really talking to and who their audience is, they will have good data and not data that is old and antiquated," Reynolds said.

Reynolds said her bill would also allow Ohioans who don't want to be affiliated with a political party to declare themselves unaffiliated in real time by simply filling out a form.

The bill will likely face opposition

Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said she doesn't like the idea behind of closed primaries.

"Closed primaries exclude a large number of independent voters who would like to have a voice in the election," Miller said.

Miller said because of the way legislative and congressional districts are drawn in Ohio, it's important to allow unaffiliated voters the opportunity to continue to participate in primaries on the day of the election.

"Ohio is one of the most partisan, gerrymandered states in the country. And with this gerrymandering, whoever wins the primary is generally who is going to win that legislative seat," Miller said.

Miller said her group wants to make sure Ohioans have ease in how they want to vote.

The bill is new and while SB 147has been introduced, it has not yet been assigned to a committee.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.