As Republican lawmakers try to limit drop boxes and early voting, a new report shows rural Ohio voters want more flexibility in how they can cast their ballots.
A poll commissioned by the nonpartisan election group Secure Democracy found that roughly three-quarters of rural voters support allowing counties to provide multiple early voting and ballot drop-off locations, as well as expanding the types of acceptable voter identification.
They also back 24-hour drop box access and the use of a secure website to request an absentee ballot.
The poll comes as legislators push separate bills that would alter the state's rules for conducting elections. Supporters say the changes are necessary to prevent fraud, but opponents contend they would sow confusion and suppress votes.
One proposal would eliminate in-person voting on the Monday before Election Day, limit drop boxes to 10 days before Election Day and require Ohioans to request mail-in ballots no later than 10 days before an election. A stricter measure would ban drop boxes entirely and significantly reduce the number of days for early voting, among other provisions.
Pollsters interviewed 600 Ohioans for the survey in April, although it's unclear how many of them identified as rural voters.
Officials with Secure Democracy say the bills could hurt voters in 17 rural counties who relied on voting flexibility even before the pandemic drove people toward absentee and early voting. One in 4 rural voters cast ballots by mail in the 2020 presidential election, and the figures were higher in counties with more adults with disabilities. About 35% voted early.
The findings also suggest the Republican legislation could hurt voters who are critical to their base. Most of the voters in these counties are non-Hispanic whites, and 25% of them are ages 65 and older, according to Secure Democracy. Over three-quarters of them voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020.
"This report should be a warning sign to any Ohio lawmaker who seeks to limit access to the polls by restricting voting by mail or early voting," said Sarah Walker, executive director of Secure Democracy. "Republicans, Democrats and Independents across the state clearly rely on these methods of voting."
Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.