Democratic state lawmakers say the Republicans who control the Ohio House and Senate are passing bills that make it harder for voters who tend to favor Democrats at the ballot box. But Republicans say the Democrats have it wrong. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports on the fight over voting rights.
Democratic State Representative Debbie Phillips represents the Athens area where Ohio University is situated. She says she wants to make sure students at that university maintain their right to vote in Ohio elections. But Phillips says Republicans are trying to make it harder.
Phillips: "Republicans in the House added an amendment in the budget to try to force universities to stop charging out of state tuition to any voter that the university provides with a letter that can be used for voter i.d. This amendment is estimated to cost Ohio universities over 300 million dollars. Republicans don’t want to help students with the cost of tuition. They want to stop students from voting and they are trying to get the universities to do that work for them."
Phillips says courts have already ruled students have a right to vote in the place where they attend college full time. Democrats also take issue with the way the federal motor voter law is being applied in Ohio. And they don’t like a bill that puts restrictions on the signature gathering process for allowing voters to vote to shoot down a bill at the ballot box. There’s more. Senator Nina Turner takes issue with a new election reform bill.
Turner: "Senate bill 109 claims to authorize electronic pollbooks and also claims to allow for the counting of votes where the voter both selects a candidate and also writes in the same candidate on the write in line known as the double bubble. In reality, senate bill 109 is about needlessly throwing out votes, even when the intention of the voter is clear. And this will happen only in certain counties, surprise, surprise, like the largest Democratic county in the state, Cuyahoga County. Republicans don’t want to count votes. They want to throw out votes."
But the Republican Senator Larry Obhof who sponsored that bill says that’s not the case.
Obhof: "It’s unfortunate that one of my colleagues and maybe more of them are running campaigns for secretary of state right now and are taking what are very reasonable and should be bipartisan reform efforts and trying to use them as political props."
Obhof says a lot of thought and planning went into his bill. And he says he worked with across the aisle and with elections officials to address their needs.
Obhof: "The Executive Director of the Ohio Association of Election officials testified in favor of the bill. That association is, by definition, 50% Republican and 50% Democrat, so it’s quintiessentially a bipartisan elections body and that organization says the bill makes great fiscal sense and will save taxpayer dollars without affecting service to voters. And we had a couple of groups that don’t always agree with Republicans on these issues….the League of Women Voters….testified in support of the bill and the Director of Common Cause Ohio didn’t testify on behalf of the bill but spoke to the media about it and she said she thought it was a thoughtful piece of legislation."
As for the legislation in the budget that would change student voting at college campuses, Obhof says he doesn’t like it either.
Obhof: "I actually submitted an amendment to remove that and I know a number of my colleagues in the Republican caucus did as well. So I don’t think this is a partisan issue. I don’t think this is an attempt to stop people from voting. I’m not sure why that provision is in there and what its intended effect was specifically but it’s not something I supported and it’s not something that I would say has broad support throughout the caucus."
Obhof says that provision could be removed next week when Senators make changes to the budget.