Cuyahoga County Council approved executive Ed FitzGerald's plan to mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters in the county. ideastream's Nick Castele reports the vote came shortly after the state legislature said it would withdraw an amendment that could have penalized the county for doing so.
The Cuyahoga County measure passed along a party-line council vote, with eight Democrats in favor and three Republicans against. It allows the county executive to mail absentee ballot applications to voters even if they didn't request them. And it goes against a newly passed state law saying the secretary of state is the only public official with that power.
Statehouse Republicans, perhaps aware of the coming vote, responded earlier this week by proposing a 10 percent cut in state local government aid to any county that thwarted the law. In Cuyahoga County, that would have amounted to a $1.7 million reduction in state funding.
Secretary of State Jon Husted stepped into the fray as well. He said FitzGerald had no reason to even suggest sending out unsolicited ballot applications, since he intends to send them himself. And Husted criticized Republicans as well.
"There's no reason for the General Assembly to take a measure of depriving the citizens of Cuyahoga County of their local government funds because of the irresponsible acts of their leaders," Husted told ideastream in a phone interview.
FitzGerald, who's running for governor, called for a federal investigation of new voting rules in Ohio, including the threat to penalize the county. After that, and with the governor and secretary of state Husted calling on their own party to back down, Statehouse Republican leadership said they'd kill their amendment.
This meant FitzGerald's plan passed with little threat from the state -- though Husted said the state auditor could still question why the county's spending public money to violate a state law.
For his part, FitzGerald said he'd only mail applications if the state didn't. But he said he was still serious about following through on his threat to take the state to court over reductions in the number of early voting days.
"We won this battle today, in terms of them trying to take away more of our local government fund, but the fight for free and fair access to the ballot is not over," FitzGerald said after the council vote.
He said he hoped sue in time to increase the number of in-person voting days in the election this November.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the plan would allow the county executive to mail ballot applications to all county residents. In fact, it would allow mailing to all registered voters in the county.