Election echoing in debate at Statehouse

Record-Courier Capital Bureau Published:

COLUMBUS -- There was shouting and chanting at the Statehouse last week, but it wasn't over GOP-backed election law changes.

Instead, all of the ire was focused on the issue of abortion, with Democrats showing their opposition to the possible passage of bills that would block the procedure within weeks of conception and pull funding from Planned Parenthood.

But the election remains fresh on Statehouse dwellers' minds. Though Republican lawmakers have not offered details on what lame duck legislation could include, they did allow a couple of Democrats to offer sponsor testimony on two election-related bills.

The first, Senate Joint Resolution 3, was introduced a year ago by Sen. Capri Cafaro, a Democrat from Hubbard, during the height of the Senate Bill 5 debate. Cafaro and others were concerned that Republican lawmakers would attempt to pass another version of the bill and its resounding defeat.

The joint resolution, which would require voters' approval, would forbid the legislature from "re-enacting laws that are identical or substantially similar to laws rejected by referendum for a cooling off period of two years," Cafaro told the Senate's government oversight committee last week.

The provision could be overridden by the legislature if two-thirds of its members agreed, Cafaro said.

The same legislative panel also heard sponsor testimony on Senate Bill 227, which would allow boards of elections across the state to send unsolicited absentee ballot applications to eligible voters.

It would also enable voters to apply for absentee ballots using e-mail or other Internet-related means.

Senators Nina Turner, from Cleveland, and Charleta Tavares, from Columbus, both Democrats who co-sponsored the legislation, said the proposed law changes would help alleviate long polling place lines on Election Day and make it easier for some Ohioans to cast ballots.

"SB 227 provides a pro-democracy, pro-voter approach to our elections process," Tavares said. "This is a fundamental form of outreach to the citizen taxpayers to remind them of the election, encourage their participation and provide a tool for them to easily, efficiently and effectively cast their ballots."

And Turner added that the true aim "is to promote ballot access by making voting more convenient and helping to alleviate long lines at the polls on Election Day. As evidence from years past has demonstrated, promoting vote-by-mail options are an effective way to do so."

The legislation is interesting, given comments by some voting rights advocates that a mass mailing of absentee applications by Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted confused some voters, who submitted the paperwork and then tried to vote on Election Day.

It's also interesting, given the outcry over the lack of weekend early voting and the mistrust voiced by some voters over the mail-in option.

Still, Republicans' willingness to hear the bill last week may be an indication that they would compromise on absentee application mailings if Democrats are willing to give in other areas.

So far, the public back and forth between the two sides has been mostly cordial, in comparison to the growing debate over abortion-related bills and other issues.

We'll see if it lasts.

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