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COLUMBUS, Ohio (CGE) – In a nation that thinks other nations should replicate its system of democracy, it is indeed ironic that voting in America has become as confusing as it is today. But a coalition of voting rights advocates in Ohio Thursday said the growing confusion over voting was reason enough to call on state lawmakers to halt any further efforts to tamper with changes to election laws.
Let voters vote this fall
A coalition composed of the League of Women Voters of Ohio (LWV), Common Cause Ohio, Miami Valley Voter Protection Coalition, Northeast Ohio Voting Advocates, Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, ACLU of Ohio, and the Ohio Women with Disabilities Network, held a media event at which they asked the Ohio General Assembly to do no more harm to new voting laws in advance of the November 6 General Election, at which the race for the White House will be decided.
Any additional election law legislation, they said, will only exacerbate the already high level of official confusion and internal inconsistencies in advance of an election where large crowds are expected. From HB 224, the bill to repair HB 194, to SB 295, the bill to repeal HB 194, to the possible ballot referendum of HB 194, the group rhetorically asked, “is it any wonder the general voting public is confused?”
“Voters are already confused due to all the voting legislation proposed in 2011 and 2012,” Carrie Davis, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said today. “Did voter ID change? Is early voting the same as 2010? Why does early voting end the Friday before the election when HB 194 was blocked by the referendum?” she asked.
The group said that notwithstanding the patchwork of voting bills passed or pending in the Ohio General Assembly, where both chambers are controlled by big margins by Republicans who reclaimed the House two years ago and won all statewide races including the office of governor, doing more before the summer break would only create more confusion for voters. In fact, they asked lawmakers to do nothing more until 2013.
“Legislating in a hurry is a bad way to do business, especially when it comes to election law. When the election code is changed in a patchwork fashion, it creates internal inconsistencies and voter confusion,” David said.
Daniel Tokaji, a nationally respected expert on voting and voting laws, wrote in an email to CGE that he agrees that a moratorium is in order. “I agree with the LWV. I think the Ohio legislature has caused enough voting problems over the past year or so. They should give the people a chance for a thumbs up or thumbs down vote on the voting restrictions the legislature decided to impose last year.” Tokaji is the Robert M. Duncan/Jones Day Designated Professor of Law at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University.
In an email to reporters, Davis of the LWV said that on average, it takes two years for voters and election workers to adapt to changes. “The prevailing wisdom is to make election policy changes in off-year elections when voter turnout is lower. We are open to working with legislators to take a hard look at election law and come to consensus on sensible reforms, but this is not the time,” Davis said.
Sam Gresham of Common Cause Ohio, said, “All eyes are going to be on Ohio this November. Many newspaper editorial boards and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that what we need is more stability and less drama in the voting process in Ohio.” Gresham said now is the time to prepare and educate voters on their rights-not change the rules again.
Gary Daniels, ACLU of Ohio Associate Director, added that any revisions to election laws so soon before an election will create confusion that will only harm voters. “Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates has worked closely with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, and we know first-hand how difficult it is for poll workers to respond to last minute changes in complicated election law,” Norman Robbins, a spokesman for NOVA said. “Right now the law is settled. Let it be.”
Ohio Secretary of State
Contacted for his response or comment on today’s call for a moratorium, a spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said that Mr. Husted continues to be in favor of the legislature repealing HB 194 to avoid unnecessary voter confusion. His [Mr. Husted’s] preference would be to revisit reforms after the 2012 election cycle, but if the General Assembly works together on election reforms, Mr. Husted “feels he owes it to them to be willing to sit down and discuss the changes,” agency spokesman Matt McClellan said in an email to CGE.
To complicate matters even more, Ohio House Speaker Batchelder, a lawyer by training and a historian by avocation, has publicly questioned whether the legislature can repeal HB 194, since it’s now the subject of a referendum.
HB 194, which among other provisions made receiving absentee ballots more difficult while shortening the time for early voting, passed quickly. Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed the bill into law in July 2011.
Critics alleged that it made voting more difficult for the working poor, the elderly, students, and urban residents, traditional strongholds for Democratic candidates and causes. Progressives note that a many of the bill’s provisions were not needed to help elections run smoother, but were instead designed to depress Democratic turnout for President Obama this election year.
A petition campaign to put it on the statewide ballot was successful when the Ohio Secretary of State certified it for the 2012 November ballot on Dec. 9, 2011.
If the legislature heeds the call today to do more, HB 194 won’t be effective until after November, and if voters reject it with the same zeal they turned out last year to scrub SB 5, a bill pushed by Republican lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Kasich that gutted collective bargaining rights for public union workers, it will reset the legislative game board.
Greg Moore, Campaign Director of Fair Elections Ohio, said of what the Ohio legislature has done so far on voting laws, “The failure of the legislature in S.B. 295 to restore Ohio’s election laws to what they were before the passage of H.B. 194 demonstrates a motive that rests more in politics than in policy. If the legislature is truly interested in restoring voting rights, it would repeal the provisions of H.B. 224 that were adopted to correct parts of H.B. 194 related to weekend voting.”
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