Election Reform Repeal Headed To Governor’s Desk

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The repeal of the election changes would not restore the three days of early, in-person voting that were cut last year.(Photo: Flickr)
The repeal of the election changes would not restore the three days of early, in-person voting that were cut last year.(Photo: Flickr)

The Republican-dominated Ohio House has passed a plan that would repeal a controversial referendum that’s currently slated for a statewide vote this November.

Last year, the legislature approved a controversial election reform measure that, among other things, eliminated weekend voting the weekend before the election. After it was signed into law, Democrats gathered some 400,000 petition signatures to put the law up for a referendum.

They were successful.

But now, Republicans, who passed that plan last year have voted to repeal it to keep it from going before voters. Republican Representative Lou Blessing says passing this measure will keep the issue from going before voters.

“There’s no reason to go forward with an election. We can repeal this and save the taxpayers at least a million dollars,” Blessing says.

That’s what Republicans say it will cost to put the issue on the ballot and explain it to voters.

But the repeal effort does not restore those three days on the weekend before the election because it was eliminated in another provision passed after the one they’ve repealed.

“Both democrat and Republican members of the election boards have said they do not want these three days before the election,” says Republican Rep. Ron Maag.

Democrats in the legislature disagree. Representative Alicia Reece points to the fact that 90,000 Ohioans voted during that weekend in 2008.

“The statistics show those days…it’s not me saying it, it’s not someone else saying it. It’s the facts…that more people voted on those three days. It was the highest voting days. It’s the facts,” Reece says.

Democrats say Republicans want to end weekend voting.

Dem. Matt Lundy says he thinks the repeal issue should go to the ballot.

“Why not let the voters vote? And I think the real question is what are you so afraid of?”

Ohio’s Secretary of State Jon Husted says with the law repealed, it should be stricken from the ballot. But Former Secretary of State, Democrat Jennifer Brunner, says there are plenty of reasons to keep it on the ballot. She works with the group that circulated petitions to put it there.

Brunner says she’ll fight to keep it on the ballot this November, regardless of what Republican leaders want.

“It seems to me they are being ostriches, putting their heads in the sand because the one thing they are forgetting is referendum is a specific state constitutional right that the people never gave to the legislature or to any other branch of government,” Brunner says.

“They reserved it to themselves and the legislature can’t take it away from them.”

So, as expected, this issue will soon be headed to court. Brunner says this repeal is not a real repeal and she won’t agree to its removal from the ballot. She said her group tried to work it out with lawmakers to avoid this battle.

“We literally last Saturday, on behalf of Fair Elections Ohio, drafted a step by step nine point step by step, here’s a clear path to resolution of this issue. And it’s really a sad state of affairs that the house and senate, both controlled by Republicans, wasn’t able to get this thing worked out. We saw there wasn’t even agreement between the house and senate.

Ohio House Speaker Bill Batchelder says Brunner’s group did not come to him with a proposed agreement.

“We did not receive an approach from members of the committee,” Batchelder says.

But what happens in court will be only one part of the equation.

John Greene, political science professor at the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute says what happens in the court of public opinion matters more.

“If a credible case can be made that people’s right to vote cannot be protected or their ability to vote is being restricted, that’s a big issue,” Greene says.

Greene says voters who remember they could vote on the weekend before the election four years ago could view this action as restricting their right to vote. And he says that could make a big difference on how they view this fight over the referendum.

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