Elections Law Repeal Divides Ohio GOP Leaders

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Ohio Sen. President Tom Niehaus (right) is criticizing Secretary of State Jon Husted for going public with his thoughts before talking to lawmakers.(Photo: File photos)
Ohio Sen. President Tom Niehaus (right) is criticizing Secretary of State Jon Husted for going public with his thoughts before talking to lawmakers.(Photo: File photos)

Ohioans are set to vote on a controversial election reform plan majority Republicans pushed through the legislature last year. Minority Democrats were successful in getting enough petition signatures to put that issue on the ballot so voters have a chance to kill it.

But now, Ohio’s top elections official is suggesting lawmakers repeal that law so it doesn’t go before voters.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted says he wants legislators to repeal the law so the referendum won’t be needed.

But legislative leaders are not happy because they say Husted didn’t talk about that suggestion with them first.

“Do you sense a little frustration?” Senate President Tom Niehaus rhetorically asked reporters. “When you make an effort to reach out to a state office holder who has jurisdiction over this area and you are saying we have some ideas, we’d like your input on this. And they answer in the press. Yes, that bothers me. When people put a headline in front of good public policy? yes, that bothers me.”

Niehaus says lawmakers have been questioning their options on the election reform measure and wondering what, if anything, they can legally do to stop it now….before it goes to the ballot this fall. And he says those questions led him to seek advice from Secretary of State Husted in the first place.

“If you have rules in place for a primary, then could the rules be different in the general? I don’t know the answer to that question. That’s frankly why we went to the Secretary of State to ask….here’s what we are thinking about. What do you think we can do? And we weren’t getting anything back until I read the press release.”

But Husted says his comments about the need to repeal the elections reform measure came about as he was speaking to workers from local boards of elections, whom he says find the whole election reform matter confusing.

While the election reform plan has been put on hold until voters decide its fate, there have been questions by poll officials as to exactly what they should and should not be doing.

“Understand, I was specific not to wade in and tell them what to do,” Husted said. “I was specific to not advocate for any specific reform. All I was trying to do is to make the point that if it’s not going to become law before November and we were going to look at other ideas, wouldn’t it make sense for everybody to just repeal the bill so we didn’t have the controversy?”

Husted says he didn’t realize that his ideas were not expressed to Niehaus before Husted made them publicly.

“I know I talked with several senators about this. I know I talked with them in advance of the senate retreat and they were well aware of my desire to look at the issue of repealing the bill.”

If lawmakers do repeal the law, and it’s legal to do so, there wouldn’t be a ballot issue on it this fall. And it would render useless the efforts and expenditures of Democrats who fought to put this referendum on the ballot in the first place.

That’s a point Kevin DeWine, the head of the Ohio Republican Party, jokes about with reporters. He says repealing the law could get back at Ohio Democratic Party Chief Chris Redfern.

“If I can figure out a way to make a complete waste to make of the money Chris had to spend to get the signatures, I want to do that.”

Another question is what impact, if any, repealing the law would have on candidate elections in November. Election reform has been thought by political pundits as an issue that might help bring Democrats to the polls. And opponents of election reform who have been looking forward to voting on the issue could see repealing the law as a way of preventing their voice from being heard at the ballot box.

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