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Senate President Changed State Panel Just Before It Rejected Prepaid Ballot Postage

Applications for voter ballots are seen at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Cleveland.
Tony Dejak
Associated Press
Applications for voter ballots are seen at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Cleveland.

The leader of Democrats in the Ohio House is blasting a Republican-controlled panel of lawmakers for its decision to deny a request to pay for postage on mail-in ballots.

Ohio House Minority leader Emilia Sykes says she’s not surprised the Ohio Controlling Board voted not to allowSecretary of State Frank LaRose, a fellow Republican, to shift money in his office around to allow mail-in ballots to have prepaid postage.

“It has been the prerogative of the Republican caucus to create barriers and make it challenging for everyday people to vote. Things like not allowing for prepaid postage is akin to a poll tax," Sykes says.

Sykes and other Democrats are critical of majority Republicans for the process too. Ohio Senate president Larry Obhof (R-Medina) made last-minute replacements to the Ohio Controlling Board just before the panel voted on the measure.

Obhof replaced state Sen. Jay Hottinger (R-Newark), a supporter of LaRose’s plan to provide postage for ballots, ahead of the vote. Hottinger was replaced with state Sen. Bill Coley (R-Liberty Township), who has led fights against paying postage on ballots in the past. All four Republicans on the panel voted against LaRose's request, while the two Democrats voted in favor.

In a written statement, Obhof spokesman John Fortney says the role of the Controlling Board is to distribute funding, not make policy that bypasses election law. He also says it’s not uncommon for members to be replaced, adding it is the Senate president’s prerogative to make those replacements that reflect the will of the general assembly.

LaRose said he wanted to provide postage, in part, so voters would not delay in mailing ballots.

However, Republicans on the panel pointed out that mail-in ballots are not the only option. Ohio voters can also choose to vote in-person at their local board of elections for four weeks prior to Election Day, or at their precincts on November 3.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.