Ohio’s New Voter Suppression Law Unpacked

Large text that says H.B. 458 with small text right above it that says Ohio | Enacted by Governor with the Ohio State house in the lower right corner on a red background.

In the weeks between the midterm elections and the end of their 2022 legislative session, Ohio Republicans tried to push several measures restricting voting through the Legislature. House Bill 458, a proposal enacting a strict photo ID requirement and limitations on mail-in voting and in-person early voting, made it through the legislative process the last day of the session and went to Gov. Mike DeWine’s (R) desk. DeWine signed the bill into law on Jan. 6, 2023. Notably, H.B. 458 is the first major voter suppression law to be enacted after the 2022 midterms. Here, we unpack exactly what this law will do and how it will impact Ohio voters.

The law requires almost all voters to have a photo ID.

The part of the law that’s gotten the most attention creates new requirements for voters to present a photo ID in order to cast their ballots. Under previous law, while Ohio voters had to present some form of ID to vote, it didn’t have to be a photo ID. Ohioans could still vote using other forms of ID such as a bank statement, utility bill or paycheck as long as it included the address on their voter registration. Now, voters will generally have to have a photo ID to vote in person unless they have a religious objection to being photographed.

Specifically, H.B. 458 defines a photo ID as an unexpired Ohio driver’s license, state ID card, interim ID form, U.S. passport or military ID. Notably, the law’s language appears to exclude free military IDs given out by Ohio counties as a valid form of ID. Additionally, voters who choose to send in a mail-in ballot will have to provide an Ohio driver’s license or ID number, the last four digits of their Social Security number (SSN) or a copy of their photo ID with their application for a mail-in ballot. In-person voters without a photo ID will be allowed to vote using a provisional ballot, but the ballot will not be counted unless the voter brings their ID to their local board of elections. Furthermore, the ID requirement isn’t just limited to voting — it also extends to registration. To register, Ohioans now must provide their state driver’s license, ID number or the last four digits of their SSN. Previously, voters could use a military ID or official document like a utility bill or bank statement to register.

As we’ve written previously, strict ID laws can lead to depressed turnout — especially among minority voters. A study in Texas found that a photo ID law in that state would have led to at least 16,000 fewer voters in 2016. While the exact impact of the law is hard to predict, an estimated 1 million Ohioans currently have suspended licenses and could be disenfranchised by the law. This possibility is made even more likely since the law shortens the amount of time in-person voters have to cure their provisional ballots.

H.B. 458 also makes mail-in and in-person voting more difficult.

While the photo ID requirements are getting a lot of attention, H.B. 458 also includes numerous restrictions and changes to the laws governing mail-in and in-person voting. In one sense, these restrictions are even more significant than the ID requirements since they impact all voters in the state even if they possess a valid photo ID. For mail-in voting, the law:

  • Brings forward the deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot from noon on the third day before Election Day to close of business on the seventh day before Election Day;
  • Requires mail-in ballots to arrive by the fourth day after Election Day instead of the 10th day after Election Day and
  • Prohibits officials from prepaying postage on mail-in ballots and mail-in ballot applications.

While the law permits counties to establish mail-in ballot drop-off locations at election offices, each county is only allowed to designate one location — no matter the population. That means Franklin County, with nearly 1.5 million residents, has the same number of drop-off locations as Vinton County (12,000 residents). The law also allows (but does not require) counties to provide a drop box at a designated election office. The law as enacted restricted drop box availability to the county board of election’s hours of operation, but a bill signed into law by DeWine a few hours before H.B. 458 instead allows drop boxes to be available 24/7 during the early voting period.

Another major change is a reduction in the amount of time voters have to correct mistakes on their mail-in ballots or ensure their provisional ballots are counted. Under past law, voters had seven days after Election Day to cure their ballots. H.B. 458 shortens this period to just four days. This change also impacts the photo ID requirement: Voters who lack a photo ID when they vote in person and vote a provisional ballot will only have four days to bring their ID to their local elections board.

Finally, H.B. 458 eliminates in-person early voting on the Monday before Election Day. Instead, the law requires the six hours previously available on this day to be allocated to days of the preceding week. During consideration of a separate bill that also eliminated voting on this day, multiple witnesses testified before the Ohio House that this Monday is one of the most popular days for early voting and eliminating it could impact thousands of voters.

It would be bad enough if H.B. 458 were just a strict photo ID law. But it doesn’t just require photo ID, it directly limits the opportunities Ohio voters have to vote and makes it more difficult to return mail-in ballots in time.

DEFENDING DEMOCRACY PODCAST Ohio’s New Voter Suppression Law

Marc and Paige discuss Ohio’s new voter suppression law — exactly what it does, why it’s so harmful to voters and the lawsuit already filed challenging it.

What’s next for the law?

Once the signed law is filed with the office of the secretary of state, the provisions will take effect in 90 days. You can find the law’s effective date on the secretary of state’s website.

A group of Ohio organizations filed a lawsuit against H.B. 458 shortly after DeWine signed it. The lawsuit primarily targets three aspects of the law — the photo ID requirement to vote in person, restrictions on ballot curing and changes to the deadlines associated with mail-in ballots. The plaintiffs argue the provisions “will severely restrict Ohioans’ access to the polls” in violation of the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. But while the lawsuit is an important step to protecting the rights of voters, we still have a long way to go before we know whether H.B. 458 is constitutional or not.