Ohio House Democrats propose election reforms
By Marc Kovac
Democrats in the Ohio House have proposed a series of election reforms that would allow online registration, expand provisional and absentee voting and increase the number of IDs allowed when casting ballots.
All he changes, they say, would allow more Ohioans to participate in elections with confidence that their votes would be counted.
“There are reforms that are needed before the 2012 election,” said Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat from Kent. “We don’t want to get into a situation where we’re making changes right up to the last minute, but we’re still in January of 2012. There’s still time. ... There’s easy fixes that we can make that we can put into place before [November].”
Clyde joined Democratic state Reps. Tracy Heard from Columbus and Alicia Reece from Cincinnati in unveiling the election package during a press conference at the Statehouse on Friday. They hope to introduce the legislation in coming weeks.
Their comments came on the heels of a speech by Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted urging the GOP-controlled House and Senate to repeal House Bill 194 and to revisit election-reform legislation.
House Bill 194 proposes a number of changes to Ohio’s election laws, including eliminating “golden week” when residents could register and vote on the same day, prohibiting election boards from sending unsolicited ballot applications to eligible voters and ending in-person absentee voting early.
Proponents believe the changes are needed to help prevent fraud and ensure election rules are applied consistently across the state. But opponents say the changes will make it harder for the elderly, low-income residents and minorities to cast ballots.
Democrats backed a successful petition drive to force a referendum on HB194, blocking it from taking effect until voters decide in November whether they believe the reforms should move forward.
During a speech to elections officials earlier in the week, Husted said Republicans should repeal the legislation to increase stability and decrease the drama associated with a presidential election. He would like lawmakers to start over on the issue, with changes taking effect after the November election.
Republican leaders of the House and Senate later indicated that they felt broadsided by Husted’s comments, considering the secretary of state’s role in crafting HB 194. They also questioned the constitutionality of repealing a bill that’s already slated to be on the ballot.
House Democrats used the opportunity to offer their own election reforms, many of which they have discussed or introduced in separate legislation or as floor amendments in the past few years.
Their reform package would allow college identification cards or passports to be used as acceptable voter IDs to cast ballots; allow online registration for all voters; extend early voting; and prohibit elections officials from rejecting ballots with stray pen marks or in cases where names are misspelled, among other provisions.
“We’re very concerned about the discussions that are going on,” Clyde said. “We’re confident that voters will repeal 194 in November if it’s on the ballot. If we decide to take it off the ballot, we want to make sure that there’s a meaningful discussion about what a replacement bill should look like.”
She added, “We don’t want to see a thwarting of Ohio’s right to referendum by taking one bill off the ballot and adding a very similar one or identical one later in the Legislature.”