Talk about legislative HB 194 repeal unsettling
As you know, we spent a couple of months this fall hustling to get enough signatures to put the repeal of HB 194 — the legislature's voter suppression bill — on this November's ballot. We succeeded with nearly half a million signatures, twice what we needed. This shelved a bill that created dozens of obstacles to voting until after the presidential election, when voters would be deciding whether it would stand.
There's rumblings now about a legislative "repeal and replace."
This makes me uneasy. The call to repeal it emanated from secretary of state Jon Husted, and it's a little hard to read what his intentions might be. He claims the referendum would be "confusing." Husted has done a lot of dodging and weaving on election issues, sometimes suggesting things that sound fair but contain a boobytrap (his idea for bipartisan redistricting while he was in the legislature), sometimes seeming to fight against fairness (trying to block Cuyahoga from mailing out absentee ballot applications). Is he a friend or foe to voters? It's hard to tell.
Husted thinks the bill should be revisited AFTER the 2012 election. Obviously repealing the bill but then re-enacting some of its provisions now would be a trick to get around voter repeal in November — and could besmirch Republicans going into the election.
Several state reps. are suggesting an alternative bill, intending to — gasp — make voting easier. (What a novel concept!) Cincinnati's Alicia Reese, Columbus Tracy Maxwell Heard, and Kent's Kathleen Clyde are proposing some changes summarized here:
They include measures intended to cut down on provisional voting, like requiring poll workers to direct voters to the correct precinct table or polling place, and to let people who have changed their name or address vote on a regular ballot.
They also propose changes that won't allow ballots to be disqualified on tiny technical errors when it's perfectly clear who the voter intended to vote for, and not allow ballots to be disqualified for things like stray marks.
They'd restore more access to early voting, and they'd allow student ID and passports to be used as ID at the polls, which they're not now. They'd also permit online voter registration and absentee ballot requests.
Meanwhile, Senate president Tom Niehaus is unhappy with Husted's suggestion because he says he was caught off-guard and learned about Husted’s proposal from his press release so he's all embarrassed and pissed off. And House speaker Bill Batchelder is wailing that the Democrats’ proposal “encourages chaos” and (ho-hum) “invites voter fraud.”
Funny, it seemed to us like HB 194 was intended to encourage chaos. And I would like to see Batchelder detail exactly how anything in the Democrats’ proposal “invites voter fraud,” already so rare as to be nonexistent.
I hope the Democrats are watching their backs on this. Across the country Republicans are pushing through bills intended to make voting more difficult for certain populations that tend to vote Democratic. There’s no reason to think that Ohio Republicans have suddenly had a change of heart and become proponents of fair, free, and open elections.