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How Ohio Election Rules Were -- And Were Not -- Changed in 2013

ideastream file photo
ideastream file photo

To understand the genesis of many election bills that were introduced this year, you need to remember what happened in 2012: A contentious law that restricted times and ways Ohioans could vote was under the threat of repeal by voters.

So the Republican-run legislature took matters into its own hands -- and in an unusual way repealed that law. But they had included some parts of that new law in another bill that did actually take effect.

Democrats won a court challenge over whether Ohioans could vote during the weekend before the election.

But all of the controversy over voter restrictions or lack thereof fanned the flames of discontent by some who claimed voter fraud was a big problem in Ohio.

So Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted looked into those claims and came out with a report early in the year that showed it wasn’t a big problem.

“Frankly it concerns me with some of the hyperbole that would circulate around these issues. that some of these unsubstantiated claims left unchecked would become conventional wisdom,” Husted said.

Husted did find problems with about 135 votes of the 5.6 million votes cast. They were investigated and a little more than a dozen were referred to local prosecutors.

Shortly after Husted’s report, some Democrats came out with their own report that showed voter intimidation and suppression were a problem in 2012.

Democratic State Sen. Nina Turner said there were at least 680 incidents reported that could be considered voter suppression, yet were not part of Secretary of State Husted’s voter report.

“ They thought nobody would be paying attention, but surprise, surprise,” Turner said.

Turner and other Democrats fought the voting changes that were added to the state’s budget. And some of those measures were removed -- but a few passed, including one that reduces the number of voting machines county boards of election must purchase.

The Republican-dominated majority also passed laws that allows state agencies to provide information to help maintain the voter registration database, authorizes electronic poll books and one that changes the rules for what minor parties must do to be recognized on the ballot.

Minor party candidates stood alongside many Democrats, such as State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, in opposing this bill that they had nicknamed “The John Kasich Reelection Protection Act.”

The sponsor of that legislation, Republican Sen. Bill Seitz, denied charges that this made it more difficult for minor parties to put their candidates on the ballot with their party affiliation. And he said there was a good reason why it was put through the legislature before the end of 2013.

“If you goof around with this too long, and you put something in effect and it doesn’t go into effect until March or April, they will trundle off to court and say you didn’t give us enough time,” Seitz said.

So the Republican legislature passed the plan quickly. It wasn’t long before Libertarians filed suit over it.

And a Libertarian is considering a run against Republican Gov. John Kasich this fall.

One of the state’s Tea Party activists came forward to say he’s thinking about challenging Kasich too.

Democrats and others who don’t like some of the election law changes say they’d like to challenge them. But they say unlike in 2012 when lawmakers passed sweeping election laws that could be easily challenged, these new changes are being passed in piecemeal.

Catherine Turcer with Ohio Citizen Action says it’s a deliberate strategy.

“In this case, it’s a little here, a little nibble here, a little nibble there, and at the end of the day, it could things more difficult -- not easier -- for voters.

So as 2014 starts, watch for debate over bills that have been introduced but not passed.

Legislation that would close Ohio’s primaries, do away with weekend voting the weekend before the election and require photo identification are on ripe for consideration -- and controversy.

nick.castele@ideastream.org | 216-916-6288