By Marc Kovac
Election advocates urged lawmakers Thursday to refrain from passing any more changes to the state’s election laws, saying their actions to date already have caused too much confusion among voters.
The League of Women Voters of Ohio, Common Cause Ohio and other groups want the Republicans who control the Ohio Senate and House to stop a pre-emptive repeal effort on House Bill 194, the controversial GOP-backed election-reform package that is the subject of a November referendum.
And they want the Legislature to leave laws as-is until after the presidential election.
“Enough already,” said Carrie Davis, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. “In the last 12 months, the Legislature has considered but not passed a bill on voter ID. They passed a comprehensive voting bill, HB 194. Two weeks later, they went back and fixed things that they missed and mistakes they had made. ... There was then a referendum effort on HB 194 to stop it from going into effect. And now, they are planning to pass a repeal of HB 194. ... We’ve been told ... that they plan to introduce and pass yet another election bill before they adjourn for the summer. All of this in 12 months. It’s too much.”
Lawmakers return to the Statehouse next week for what is expected to be a whirlwind month-and-a-half of legislative action, with a full agenda that includes Gov. John Kasich’s midbiennium budget revisions, a bill to ban unregulated private ownership of dangerous wild animals, rules affecting water usage from Lake Erie and substantive changes to Ohio’s oil and gas production and energy policies, among many other issues.
Included in the mix is a bill that would repeal House Bill 194, which proposed a number of changes to Ohio’s election laws, including eliminating the so-called “golden week” during which people can register to vote and cast ballots on the same day and prohibiting elections boards from sending unsolicited absentee-ballot applications to eligible voters.
Proponents believe the changes are needed to help prevent fraud and ensure election rules are applied consistently. Opponents say the changes will make it harder for the elderly, low-income residents and minorities to cast ballots.
The latter gathered enough signatures to force the legislation onto the ballot, meaning the election-law changes have been placed on hold.
But the Ohio Senate already has moved to repeal the bill, with proponents saying they want to start new negotiations on law changes to improve access while preventing voter fraud. Sen. Bill Coley, a Republican from Southwestern Ohio and primary sponsor of the repeal effort, has asked Democratic members of the Senate for suggestions on a revamped bill with hopes of gaining bipartisan support.
But the League of Women Voters of Ohio and other groups continue to question the constitutionality of the repeal, a move they and others say is unprecedented.
“At this point, the Legislature could introduce the best election bill imaginable, and it’s still not the right time,” Davis said. “We should not be making changes in the middle of an election cycle. We should wait until next year.”