by J.D. Davidson
Confusion for some Ohio boards of election forced a new bill that walks back at least part of a law stopping election officials from working with nongovernmental entities.
The Ohio General Assembly tacked the legislation onto its budget last year. Despite assurances from lawmakers and Secretary of State Frank LaRose the ban would not create an issue for local election officials, Attorney General Dave Yost issued an opinion in January that said the new law criminalizes partnerships with private groups, but most routine work is OK.
Recently, however, the House passed House Bill 564 – which deals with full- or part-time designations for township employees – with an addition that allows election officials to work with private groups to use a building to train election officials.
Critics of the original law say if the new law does not pass the Senate and is signed by Gov. Mike DeWine, local officials could not use places like churches for training poll workers.
“Our democracy relies on trusted community partners to instill confidence in our elections, educate voters, and alleviate confusion. My colleagues in the legislature rightfully keep praising our election officials while at the same time make their jobs harder by forcing them to conduct a bifurcated primary election and criminalizing them when they collaborate with others to do so,” Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Cleveland, said. “While passing HB564 as amended concedes that Ohio’s collaboration ban is confusing and counterproductive, it does not go far enough to offer the clarity that our bipartisan boards of elections need and deserve.”
The initial law change came after LaRose and county election officials accepted millions of dollars from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2020 to pay for election administration support.
Voter advocacy groups continue to criticize the law, saying it hurts voter registration and education efforts because nonprofits around the state use election officials to train volunteers on how to register people to vote correctly.
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An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher. Davidson is a regional editor for The Center Square.