COLUMBUS --Voting rights advocates are calling on Gov. John Kasich to veto a handful of election reform bills moving through the state legislature, saying the proposed law changes would make it more difficult for eligible Ohioans to cast ballots.
"What we see right now is a concerted effort by Gov. Kasich and our very, very hyper partisan state legislature to undermine the democratic process and build a brick wall between voters and the ballot box," said Deidra Reese, representing the Ohio Fair Election Network.
Among other bills, legislation is pending in the House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee to eliminate "Golden Week," the period during which residents can register to vote and cast ballots at the same time.
Other bills would increase how often voters addresses are checked against other government databases, permit the secretary of state to mail unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters while prohibiting other public officials from doing the same, require certain information be included on provisional ballots cast by voters whose eligibility is in question, and reduce the amount of time voters casting the latter have to confirm their status.
Comparable provisions were included in House Bill 194 of the last general assembly, which was initially passed, then the subject of a voter referendum before lawmakers preemptively repealed it before a November vote.
The bills have already moved through the Senate and awaits a final vote in the House.
The latter has its final session day of the year next week.
Proponents say the changes are needed to ensure only eligible voters are casting ballots.
Sen. Frank LaRose, primary sponsor of the legislation to eliminate Golden Week, said even with that change, the state would still have about a month of early in-person voting, which is more than most of the rest of the country.
"We would be the most permissive state for early voting in the entire region, by many orders of magnitude in most cases," he said.
But opponents say the changes will make it harder for Ohioans to register to vote, cast ballots during the state's early voting period and on Election Day and potentially jeopardize legitimate ballots from being cast.
And they say the law changes would hurt minority residents, the elderly, disabled and other voters.
"The state of Ohio is beginning to line up on the wrong side of history…," said retired federal Judge Nathaniel Jones, a Youngstown native well known for his civil rights efforts. "You're aligning us with the most devious and unfortunate activists in our country's history."
Advocates want lawmakers to move bills to make it easier for residents to vote, including legislation that would allow online voter registration.
"We can have incredibly long lines like we did in 2004, or we can have early in-person voting, no-fault absentee vote by mail and voting on Election Day," said Catherine Turcer, representing the watchdog group Common Cause Ohio. "We can restrict weekend voting, or we can invite all eligible Ohioans to take advantage of the convenience of multiple ways to cast a ballot."
Rep. Ron Gerberry (D-Austintown) sent a letter Thursday to the chairman of the House committee considering the election reform bills, calling for Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted to testify on their potential impact on next year's election.
"Twenty bills have been introduced since January of this year and many are still pending in our chambers," Gerberry wrote. "We need to know if the secretary can train hundreds of board of elections staffers and 40,000 poll-workers on this slew of changes."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.