By Marc Kovac
State Rep. Mike Dovilla was serving in Iraq four years ago when he attempted to obtain an absentee ballot to vote in that year’s municipal elections.
The Cleveland-area Republican said he submitted the paperwork to the board of elections but later was told he didn’t include all of the required information.
“Through no fault of my own, and despite a proactive effort to obtain a ballot, I was disenfranchised in that year in the municipal elections,” Dovilla said. “Since that time, I’ve vowed that if I were ever in a position to be able to address this public- policy challenge and prevent it from happening to others in the military service, I would do so.”
Dovilla made good on that promise Tuesday with the introduction of legislation that could help men and women serving in the military and Ohioans who are overseas cast their election ballots.
The legislation would allow uniformed service members and overseas voters to apply for absentee ballots over the Internet or via email.
The bill also would require county boards to process ballots cast by those others and to establish a process to enable voting when military or other emergencies arise.
“While these brave individuals are protecting our country and our families around the globe, we have a duty to protect their ability to vote,” Dovilla said.
The bill is a bipartisan effort: Democratic Rep. Michael Stinziano of Columbus is the other primary co-sponsor. He is a former board of elections director in Franklin County.
“From an administrative perspective, we always knew there was more that should be done,” Stinziano said. “Often, it was not until deadlines were pressing that individuals like Rep. Dovilla would ... contact the board of elections and raise the concern about their ability to cast a ballot.”
He added, “It should not be difficult for any registered Ohioan to participate in our election process, regardless of their location.”
The legislation is expected to move separately from a larger election-reform package moving through the Ohio House and Senate.
“The larger election-reform bill has probably 75 provisions changing the law,” Rep. Robert Mecklenborg, a Republican from southwestern Ohio who serves as chairman of the House committee considering the bills. “My experience in the last general assembly with election- related bills is that it’s very easy to get out there and lost in the thickets and end up without the bill at all.”