July 14, 2011
COLUMBUS — Parts of a new election law in Ohio are being targeted for a ballot repeal effort about two weeks after the governor of this traditionally presidential swing state signed the overhaul measure.
A coalition of lawmakers, progressive groups and state’s ex-elections chief said Thursday that they have started collecting signatures in an effort to stop pieces of the law from taking effect Sept 30.
Gov. John Kasich, a first-term Republican, signed the law July 1. Among other changes, the sweeping measure shortens the state’s early voting period, bans in-person early voting on Sundays and prohibits boards of election from mailing absentee ballot requests to voters.
Former Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, said those provisions place barriers on voters and should be repealed.
“It’s an accumulation of small procedural changes that add up to be the potential for long lines, dissatisfied voters and less certainty on election results,” she said in a telephone interview.
The coalition must first gather 1,000 valid signatures and have their petition language approved by the state’s attorney general and secretary of state to move forward with the ballot repeal effort. If successful, the opponents would then have to gather roughly 231,000 valid signatures by Sept. 29 to suspend the law.
Brunner, liberal group ProgressOhio and others want to ask voters in the November 2012 election whether parts of the law should be overturned. If they meet the requirements for the ballot question, they would also keep the legislation from taking effect in time for this fall’s election.
Many of the changes in the overhaul law were ideas from current Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican.
Husted, who took office in January, has argued that early voting and absentee ballot changes would give uniformity to the elections process in the state’s 88 counties, where the early voting hours and absentee ballot solicitations had varied.
Husted spokesman Matt McClellan said that as the state’s chief election officer, Husted is not commenting on the potential referendum of the legislation.
The Republican-controlled state Legislature passed the election overhaul before leaving for summer recess in order to give county officials the chance to implement the law before this year’s Nov. 8 election.
Brunner said she and others are leaving out the sections of the bill they see as “good” — including language that brings the state’s laws in line with federal court decisions, as well as the ability for the secretary of state to contract for bulk purchase of election supplies to reduce costs to county boards.
She said they are not challenging the piece of the law that moves the state’s presidential primary from March to May.
Parts of the law that the coalition is targeting include sections that:
• Shrink the early-voting window from current 35 days before Election Day to 21 days for voting by mail and 17 days for voting in person.
• Limit Saturday in-person, early voting from 8 a.m. to noon; ban Sunday voting.
• Prohibit in-person early voting the weekend before Election Day
• Ban local boards of elections from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot requests to voters and prohibit the boards from paying the return postage on the applications or ballots.
• Specifies that poll workers may — but aren’t required — to tell voters they are in the wrong precinct.