Voter advocates are calling on Ohio Gov. John Kasich to veto several election-related bills expected to reach his desk in the coming weeks.
Several Republican-sponsored bills proposing changes to voting and election procedures are moving quickly through the General Assembly, often without much testimony or debate. Supporters of the bills say the changes have been debated in past sessions and address lingering problems with elections.
Voter advocates and Democrats say the problems are not true problems and the bills are moving too fast to have thoughtful discussions about the legislation’s possible consequences.
Deidra Reese of the Ohio Fair Elections Network said the multiple bills, which focus on provisional ballots, absentee voting and a one-week period when Ohioans can register to vote and cast a ballot, add up to reflect the controversial House Bill 194 from 2011. That bill passed but was challenged by a referendum effort. Lawmakers then effectively repealed most of the changes in another bill, before the referendum was placed on a ballot.
“There’s nobody coming in supporting these really bad ideas,” Reese told reporters, while standing in front of a “VOTER SUPPRESSION” sign.
Reese highlighted Senate Bill 205, which changes the standards for accepting absentee ballot applications, and Senate Bill 238, which would reduce the number of early voting days from 35 to 29 and eliminate “Golden Week.”
Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Medina, sponsored Senate Bill 238.
“I’ve told my Democratic colleagues if I believed that real voter suppression was occurring, if I believed real disenfranchise was occurring, I’d be the first one there to fight against them,” LaRose said.
Some of the same Democrats who opposed Senate Bill 238 approved similar changes when the Democrat-led House passed similar legislation a few years ago. The Ohio Association of Election Officials, which represents bipartisan county boards of election, has supported the change.
The bills passed by the Senate in November won’t likely pass the House before it recesses for the holidays, so the absentee ballot and Golden Week bills won’t likely be signed until early 2014.
Citizens have 90 days after a bill is signed into law to collect signatures for referendum. Reese said her organization and others are considering a referendum effort but organizing opposition and collecting the required 231,148 signatures for each bill would be difficult.
“How many clipboards can we carry at one time?” Reese said. “The Legislature belongs to the people. The laws should reflect what the people want anyway. We should not have to go to referendum just to have the law the people want.”