Only the most na Øve or the most partisan Ohioans will buy the self-serving claptrap from Republican leaders in the General Assembly about their decision to repeal a controversial law that makes major changes to elections procedures.
The repeal, pushed through by the GOP majorities in the House and Senate, is designed to prevent Ohio voters from having a say on the reform package in the November general election. The proponents of the referendum must not let this unconstitutional act go unchallenged.
What is the basis for our concluding that the repeal is unconstitutional? We have simply adopted what the speaker of the House, Bill Batchelder, R-Medina, had to say not too long ago:
“ … there is no precedent for repeal of legislation that has not taken effect due to voter referendum. As such it is possible that the passage of Senate Bill 295 [the repeal measure] may not be constitutional.” So, if one of the most powerful elected officials in the state questions the constitutionality of short-circuiting the referendum, who are we to argue?
But last week, Batchelder was singing a totally different tune — as members of his party decided to deny the voters of Ohio the opportunity to have their say. It is noteworthy that 300,000 Ohioans signed petitions to place the referendum issue on the November general election ballot.
What’s going on? Republicans in the General Assembly and Republican Gov. John Kasich have obviously been influenced by the presidential election in which the presumptive GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, is running neck-and-neck with Democratic President Barack Obama in the battleground state of Ohio.
The Republicans are worried that if the referendum on the elections reform law remains on the November ballot, it will energize the Democratic Party base. After all, the very idea of Republicans attempting to depress the Democratic vote in November has the potential of bringing Democrats polls in droves. The GOP certainly doesn’t want that to happen.
This all began last year when the Republican controlled General Assembly passed House Bill 194 that, among other things, called for the elimination of “Golden Week” during which people can register to vote and cast ballots on the same day. HB 194 also prohibits elections boards from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications to eligible voters.
The bill was signed into law by Gov, Kasich, but before it could take effect, opponents launched a petition drive to give the voters a say.
Republicans never dreamed that the numerous grassroots organizations and the Ohio Democratic Party would succeed in attracting the required number of signatures to put the issue on the November general election.
It was last thing the Republicans wanted, so they passed Senate Bill 295, which the leadership insisted would give voters who signed the petitions exactly what they wanted.
But no one should be swayed by a seemingly magnanimous majority party willing to accommodate the Democratic minority. Most Ohioans can see right through the political ploy.
Is there any doubt that had the referendum signature drive not succeeded, HB 194 would now be in effect, making voting by the elderly, minorities and new voters even more difficult?
As for the GOP’s contention that elections reform would stop voter fraud, there is no evidence of wholesale fraud at the polls. Indeed, the last time Ohio was held up to national ridicule because of troubles at the polls, the secretary of state was a Republican.
The proponents of the referendum should not back down. The Republican leadership in the Legislature and Republican Gov. Kasich have no right to prevent Ohioans from participating in a constitutionally defined act of citizenship.