The lame duck session of the Ohio legislature is coming up in the next few weeks. And there’s some talk about whether lawmakers will take up the issue of election reform -- specifically voter ID and the elimination of early in person weekend voting opportunities. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports there is controversy as to whether legislators should take up those issues in the final weeks of this year.
Ohioans went to the polls last weekend because the state lost a federal lawsuit brought by Democrats challenging a new Ohio law that eliminated those days. Some lawmakers want to take a second look at that issue that was struck down by the court. And some lawmakers say they also want to take another look at current voter identification requirements. Republican Keith Faber says election reform is important.
Faber: “Well I think we are going to take a look at it. We’ve got to see what worked and didn’t work.”
Faber isn’t ruling out accomplishing some election reform during the lame duck session in the last few weeks of this year. That’s the period when outgoing lawmakers can take controversial votes that they won’t have to answer for in the future. Faber says the lame duck session might be a good time to tackle some of the election reform issues.
Faber: “Because one, you clarify things when you’ve got people fresh in their minds as to what the issues and the problems were. The other benefit would be simply trying to help identify what you need to work on and what you don’t. Because I don’t think you do it all in one bill anyway. I think there are a lot of issues there. There are things we all agreed on that we didn’t do because we didn’t want to mess with it before the election but some of the access for the handicapped and some of those issues. And so the question is can you do things that improve the process? Yes. Because there are going to be some parts of that that are imminently controversial because when you talk about election issues, they always are. There may or may not be an incentive to do that or a desire to do that now.”
The head of Ohio’s Democratic Party, Chris Redfern, says one thing is for sure: If lawmakers try to eliminate weekend in-person early voting during the lame duck session, they will have a fight on their hands.
Redfern: “If the lame duck session of the state senate passes legislation that limits early vote, the Ohio Democratic Party will immediately commence with a referendum. We have set aside resources to take on this effort and we will take on that effort. And we will rebuff and push back any effort to strip back early vote.”
Redfern, himself, will be a member of the Ohio legislature next year when the batch of newly elected lawmakers takes office. He says he thinks it’s appropriate for the legislature to take up election reform, including early in-person weekend voting opportunities, next year.
Redfern: “No one likes to see long lines. And I don’t believe Jon Husted likes to see long lines, because it affects his legacy as secretary of state. I believe that there is an opportunity here to craft meaningful legislation that would continue the early-vote opportunities for voters and to expand into additional weekends. I think Jon speaks to uniformity first and foremost. I disagree with that, but I will cede the argument because I think allowing every voter the chance to vote on weekends is appropriate. One hundred forty-four Ottawa countians, in my home district, voted that last weekend while tens of thousands vote in Cuyahoga County and other places during weekends. So I think if we give those folks an opportunity to vote on weekends, more people will vote and we all want that.”
For his part, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted says he thinks the Ohio legislature needs to take up election reform but he doesn’t think it should be tackled during the lame duck session.
Husted: “I’m not going to tell my friends that run the legislature or the minority leader how to do their jobs. But let’s take a deep breath. Let’s set this aside for the lame duck session. Let’s get the leaders to sit down right now and say OK, we are going to watch what we say about one another, we are going to tone it down and we are going to be reasonable about how we go about this. And we are going to just set these days in code. Take it out of the hands of the local boards and the secretary of state. Tell us what days you want to do it and what hours you want to do it. It will be in the law and we will get it right. Let’s stop trying to write tricks into the code about provisional ballots. Let’s clean it up. Let’s start it over. Let’s get it right.”
Husted says this election went smoothly, despite the lawsuits and questions about the process. He says Ohio is under the microscope more than surrounding states simply because the Buckeye State is a key swing state. And even without election reform, Husted notes voters here have many more opportunities to vote than voters in Kentucky or Pennsylvania.