In July, the overwhelmingly Republican Ohio legislature passed, and Governor John Kasich signed into law, a draconian new voting bill, HB 194, aka the Voter Suppression Act. It contained hundreds of provisions designed to make voting harder, voters less informed, and ballots less likely to count.
A number of groups, including the state Democratic Party, came together as Fair Elections Ohio to gather signatures to put a repeal on the ballot. They need 231,247 valid signatures by today. And today they turned in 318,460 signatures to the Secretary of State's office — gathered in a mere six weeks.
This puts HB 194 on hold, and early voting can start next Tuesday as it would have under the current law. Putting the new regulations on hold will greatly benefit another repeal attempt already on this November's ballot — SB 5, the union-busting bill which attacks public sector workers. Under the new rules, repealing it would have been more challenging.
Now the HB 194 repeal campaign moves into a new phase. While nearly 90,000 extra signatures is a fairly comfortable margin, it is possible (just barely) that that many signatures could be invalidated. Certainly, the Republicans will be looking at them with a magnifying glass. But we can continue to gather signatures during the checking period — until mid-October. And we will be doing so. Go to www.fairelectionsohio.com if you are an Ohioan who hasn't signed yet or if you'd like to circulate a petition, even just among your family and friends.
If the repeal petitions are certified for the ballot, Ohioans will vote on it in November 2012 — and HB 194 does not take effect until after the presidential election. This is probably crucial to President Obama's reelection, Senator Sherrod Brown's reelection and possibly some Ohio congressional races as well. You can see why I have been hammering this, why I have been chasing after signatures for a month and a half from everyone I run into.
What does this bill do? I find out something new almost every day — almost none of it good. It shrinks early voting, both in-person and mail-in. It sets specific hours for in-person early voting that with limit the ability of people with jobs they must be at to vote early. It bans early voting on Sundays at BoEs, an option primarily used in 2008 by urban churches who loaded up parishioners on buses after services and took them to the BoE to vote. It stops counties who have been mailing absentee ballot applications to all registered voters from doing so. It allows any business who thinks a line of voters is interfering in some way with business to disperse them — never mind where. It invalidates ballot for host of tiny irrelevant mistakes that I have seen from people's confusion about what to put down on the petitions even well-informed and careful people make. It allows BoEs to have only two instead of four pollworkers at every precinct but the head one in multi-precinct polling places, the 2012 equivalent of 2004's shorting of voting machines. I have been a pollworker in two off-year elections and saw that four people could not keep up during busy times. Imagine only two pollworkers!
There's just so much bad stuff I couldn't even relate it all. One I'm highlighting for the upcoming campaign to get independents on board is that it bars the identification by party on the ballot of third-party candidates. So you don't know who is a Green or a Libertarian or a Socialist. And we have lots of these candidates in top-of-the-ticket races.
It looks like we will be successful in getting HB 194 on the ballot. Next we'll undoubtedly have to fend off a tsunami of Koch/ALEC money intent on limiting the voter pool. And we have more to do: Ohio has adopted congressional and legislative maps so cynically partisan that even hardened political observers are stunned. The Ohio Democratic Party has already filed a legal challenge, but we are also looking at another referendum to place a nonpartisan districting commission on the ballot which, if passed, would be seated immediately and re-draw the lines according to guidelines that guarantee compactness, community unity and as much competitiveness as possible.
Hopefully, more on that soon. Meanwhile,go to http://www.fairelectionsohio.com to help put HB 194 repeal over the top.