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Ohio House passes election law repeal
Some say the battle is headed for court.
by WKSU's STATEHOUSE CORRESPONDENT JO INGLES


Reporter
Jo Ingles
 

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. And that could mean that voters won’t be able to weigh in on the issue this fall. Democrats say voters should have the chance to vote on it….and, as Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, they are willing to take the issue to court.

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Keeping it from going before voters
Last year, the Republican dominated Ohio General assembly 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 got about 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."

That’s what Republicans say it will cost to put the issue on the ballot and explain it to voters. This repeal, however, doesn’t restore those three days on the weekend before the election. 

Republicans, like Ron Maag, say that was eliminated in another provision passed after the one they’ve repealed.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."

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."

And Democrats say some elections officials do want to allow weekend voting. Regardless, they say their job is not to represent elections officials…..it’s to represent the people of Ohio. That’s why Democrat 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?"

Former Secretary of State weighs in
Ohio’s Secretary of State, Jon Husted, says now that the issue has been repealed, there’s no reason to keep it on the ballot.

But Former Secretary of State, Democrat Jennifer Brunner, says there are plenty of reasons to keep it on the ballot. She’s with the group that circulated petitions to put it there. And she 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. 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."

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

Future of the issue
What happens in court to the issue 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 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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