Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Put off election 'reform'

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Republicans in the General Assembly have gotten the message that it's smarter to repeal a partisan election "reform" law than to have it energize Democratic voters in November. Now, though, Democrats are balking: They don't want to lose a wedge issue in a battleground state in a presidential election year.

Shame on all of them.

Republicans rammed through the bogus election law last year without Democratic support. It would, among other things, narrow the window for casting absentee ballots from 35 days to 21 days before Election Day, and from 35 days to 17 days for in-person early voting. It would prohibit early voting on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, and close early-voting polling places three days before the election.

The law also would prohibit county boards of election from mass-mailing absentee ballot applications -- a sensible practice followed by the Lucas County Board of Elections. It would eliminate a requirement that poll workers direct lost voters to their correct precinct.

Together, these changes would make it harder for elderly, poor, and minority Ohioans -- groups that tend to support Democratic candidates -- to vote.

The law was to take effect for this year's general election. But opponents collected enough signatures to put the law on hold until voters get their say on the November ballot. That delay, combined with changes in congressional and legislative districts, is causing confusion for boards of elections, poll workers, and voters.

Remembering how voters last November trounced Gov. John Kasich's attempt to restrict collective bargaining by public unions, Senate Republicans are considering a bill that would repeal the voter law and eliminate the referendum. But some GOP senators want to pass a new law that would look remarkably like the current one, too late for Democrats to mount another signature campaign.

Given the growing popularity of early and absentee voting, Democrats are confident that the referendum would benefit their candidates, including President Obama. So they are content to have voters decide the fate of the current law, even if confusion results in the votes of some Ohioans not being counted.

The Republican-controlled legislature should not cynically replace one bad law with another. Instead, Republican and Democratic lawmakers should reject dangerous, partisan attempts to manipulate the ballot.

Some elements of Ohio election law do require an overhaul. The Pew Center on the States reported this week that millions of voter-registration records across the nation are inaccurate.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted says Wood and Morrow counties have more registered voters than voting-age residents. Efforts to clean up outdated voter rolls would be useful. Yet proven instances of election fraud in Ohio and other states are rare.

The Ohio law that is now on hold addresses some legitimate concerns, but it goes much too far. Lawmakers should repeal it, removing the need for a referendum, but wait until after this year's election to make changes.

Once the temptation to influence a presidential election is removed, Republicans and Democrats can engage in a bipartisan effort that will put the needs of Ohioans ahead of political advantage.

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