The Republican majority in the Ohio General Assembly flexed its political muscle and rammed through a bill that makes major changes to the state’s election laws. Opponents responded by putting the legislation up for a referendum vote in the November general election. Now, the Senate is attempting to repeal the controversial measure.
What’s going on? Simply put, Republicans have come to realize that they have created another S.B. 5 situation, and risk bringing Democrats and others to the polls in droves in the crucial presidential election.
Last November, Republican Gov. John Kasich and Republicans in the Legislature suffered a major defeat in a referendum vote on the collective-bargaining reform law, Senate Bill 5. Public employee labor unions, private sector unions and the Ohio Democratic Party joined forces to defeat the measure. They persuaded the voters that the Republicans had overreached.
Now, with more than 200,000 Ohioans signing petitions to place the election reform bill on the general election ballot, a replay of last November is in the offing. The GOP certainly isn’t eager to have the Democratic Party fire up its members by contending that the bill is designed to make it more difficult for voters to participate in elections. Among other things, the bill would eliminate the so-called “golden week” during which people could register to vote and cast ballots on the same day, end early in-person voting, and prohibit elections boards from sending unsolicited absentee-ballot applications to eligible voters.
The signatures to place House Bill 194 on the November ballot was collected by the Fair Elections Coalition. The coalition is warning that any attempt by the General Assembly to repeal HB 194, thus depriving Ohioans of the opportunity to have their say at the ballot box, will result in another referendum drive.
Hearing are expected to begin this week on legislation to eliminate HB 194 from the ballot. It is noteworthy that the constitutionality of Senate President Tom Niehaus’ move has been raised by his counterpart in the House, Speaker Bill Batchelder.
“ ... there is no precedent for repeal of legislation that has not taken effect due to potential voter referendum,” Batchelder said. “As such, it is possible that the passage of Senate Bill 295 may not be constitutional.”
Niehaus’ contention that all he’s trying to do is revisit the debate in the hopes of reaching a more bipartisan consensus rings hollow. If he and his colleagues were interested in bipartisanship, the election reform legislation would not have been rammed through.
Republicans have realized that they’ve overreached and are once again in danger of being smacked down by the voters of Ohio. Thus, they’re attempting to short-circuit the referendum process. It should not be allowed to work.
The November general election will be crucial because Ohio is a battleground state in the presidential sweepstakes. Voter turnout will be key, and the last thing the GOP wants is for the voter coalition that was put together to defeat S.B. 5 to rise up again to reject HB 194.
But, the die has been cast and the Senate president’s attempt at a do-over won’t go unchallenged.