Without the involvement of Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, election reform coming out of the General Assembly will lack the credibility voters have been demanding since the controversial 2004 presidential election.
It’s more than just giving the state’s chief elections officer a place at the table at which the new rules, regulations and procedures are being developed. Brunner has something to offer that legislators do not have: The input of the men and women working in the boards of elections, county commissioners who pay for elections, voting rights activists and state even lawmakers.
Last year, over a period of about six months, there were statewide summits and regional conferences that delved into the shortcomings in Ohio’s system spotlighted in 2004. The sessions also focused on ways to increase voter participation, protect the sanctity of the ballot and guarantee the most accurate vote count.
Brunner, a Democrat, heard from Democrats and Republicans. The reports that came out of the summits and conferences provided the state with a close up look at the system as it now exists and what it could be with the proposed changes.
That is why the secretary of state should be included in the deliberations going on in the Republican controlled Senate.
In a letter to state Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, Brunner offered recommendations on Senate Bill 8, which the Republicans are pushing. The measure is similar to one that Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland vetoed in January because he believed the GOP leadership overreached.
“The bill addresses issues that are too complex and controversial to properly address in a lame-duck session,” the governor wrote in his veto message. “In my judgment, many of the provisions are overbroad and may make elections administration even more difficult, potentially limit opportunities for Ohio citizens to vote and expose the Secretary of State’s office and boards of elections to the risk of new and costly lawsuits.”
The new bill, which appears to replicate the one vetoed by the governor, will not make it through the Democratic controlled House unless Secretary of State Brunner embraces it.
She won’t — unless the bipartisan recommendations that came out of the summits and conferences are incorporated, Any reform measure must protect the voters and elections officials, Brunner has said.
There is no doubt that the system is in need of reform. As this month’s primary election in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties showed, voter turnout remains a problem.
But, a partisan approach to reform is not only counterproductive, but will ensure that nothing is done — again.
Republicans in the Senate should set politics aside and do what’s in the best interest of the people of Ohio.