By Marc Kovac
Republicans in the Ohio House plan to move ahead on a pre-emptive repeal of controversial election-law changes that are the subject of a November referendum.
“We’re going to pass it,” House Speaker Bill Batchelder told reporters Tuesday, indicating a floor vote could come as soon as today and that he expected a subsequent legal challenge.
Asked whether the House would act on any other election-law changes before November, Batchelder responded, “Pray God, not. ... I’ve had about all those I care to. If we had a court case that undermines something, we would obviously have to respond to that, but at this point, there does not appear to be to be anything like that out there.”
The speaker’s comments came just before a House committee had its first hearing on Senate Bill 295, legislation that seeks to repeal House Bill 194, which Gov. John Kasich signed into law last year.
It 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.
But opponents say the changes will make it harder for the elderly, low-income residents and minorities to cast ballots.
Opponents gathered enough signatures to force the legislation onto the November ballot, meaning the election-law changes have been placed on hold.
Senate Bill 295 is a pre-emptive repeal, making the general-election issue moot.
“Nothing in the Ohio Constitution prohibits this Legislature from repealing a law once it has been certified for referendum,” Sen. Bill Coley, a Republican from southwestern Ohio and primary sponsor of the bill, told members of the House’s State Government and Elections Committee.
Coley and other proponents of an early repeal say the move would save money by removing a contentious issue from the ballot and allow lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle to restart negotiations on new legislation that would ensure access to polling places by eligible voters while preventing elections fraud.
But Democrats on the committee and other opponents say the legislative repeal will undermine the will of Ohio voters and isn’t a true repeal, leaving in place an elimination of several early in-person voting days that was included in HB 194 and a subsequent bill.