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Battle lines drawn for 2014



Published: Sat, October 26, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

COLUMBUS

You could consider this time the calm before the storm for elections officials.

Yes, there’s a general election in a few days, but it’s an off year, so people aren’t coming out of the woodwork — yet — making demands for law changes to either tighten or loosen registration and voting requirements.

But the 2014 campaigns already are underway, and it won’t be long before more abundant accusations of voter fraud or voter disenfranchisement are flying from both sides of the political aisle.

There already are bills pending in the Ohio House and Senate that would affect who could vote and how ballots would be cast and when ballots would be tossed.

Some call for greater access to the polls. Some call for less. Renewed attention will be focused on all of the proposed law changes, as Republicans, Democrats and minor parties vie for position on ballots and among voters.

Along those lines, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted has his own list of priority issues, which he outlined to the Republican leaders of the Ohio House and Senate last week in a letter.

He included three areas that he says have bipartisan support and could be enacted in short order.

“There are a lot of election bills moving through the Legislature right now, but we want to make sure that the focus in on the priorities that will help us administer good elections in Ohio,” he said, adding later, “This will go a long way toward modernizing our election system and improving the political environment around administering elections.”

Husted wants lawmakers to pass legislation to standardize the days and hours on which early voting is allowed. He cites the bipartisan plan assembled by the Ohio Association of Election Officials as “a basis for passing a bipartisan plan.”

For next year’s gubernatorial election, that would mean allowing in-person absentee voting through the Saturday before Election Day.

Husted isn’t necessarily wedded to the plan as written, but he wants Statehouse Republicans and Democrats to come to an agreement and codify language on early voting well in advance of next year’s elections.

“For me, what I want to do is have uniform, fair hours where voters are voting by the same rules in all 88 counties and that it be incorporated in the law rather than be at the discretion of [the secretary of state or local elections officials],” he said.

Husted reiterated his call to allow online voter registration. Nineteen other states already offer it.

“It will save money, make it easier for voters to register, and it will make it more secure, because we will be able to validate someone’s eligibility immediately,” he said.

And Husted wants lawmakers to act before the end of the month on legislation related to minor-party ballot access.

Law changes on the issue have moved through the Senate and are before a House committee. Libertarians and others are opposed, saying the bill would make it more difficult for them to place their candidates before voters.

The “priority areas” likely will draw criticism from Husted’s Democratic challenger, state Sen. Nina Turner, who has been vocal in her criticism of Husted’s handling of last year’s presidential election.

Democrats’ response

She and Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, and other Statehouse Democrats have called for longer early voting periods, revamped rules on provisional ballots to ensure eligible voters’ choices are counted and other changes that didn’t make Husted’s letter.

And the secretary’s comments on early voting hours likely will be a focus of opponents’ attention.

“Jon Husted’s latest attempt to cut the number of early voting days is just plain wrong, and it makes it harder for Ohioans to cast a ballot,” Brian Hester, spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, said in a released statement shortly after Husted’s letter to lawmakers was made public.

“Federal courts have already ruled that Jon Husted cannot deny early voting the day before the election, so this effort only rehashes the same rejected partisan attempt to suppress voting.”

Marc Kovac is The Vindicator’s Statehouse correspondent. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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