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Published: Friday, 3/30/2012

Repeal this bad law

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Ohio's General Assembly passed a bad law last year that threatens to suppress voting across the state in the guise of election "reform." The measure needs to come off the state's books, now.

This week's vote in the Republican-controlled state Senate to repeal the law -- largely by the same lawmakers who enacted it in the first place -- could start the process. But this assumes, if the Republican-controlled House goes along, that GOP legislators will not then play cynical tricks and games to make other noxious changes in election law.

And given the heavy-handed tactics used by GOP state lawmakers, with Gov. John Kasich's support, to redraw Ohio's congressional districts in their party's favor, that is hardly a safe assumption.

The disputed law, which has not taken effect because of a Democratic challenge, would impose unnecessary new impediments to voting. Supporters say it would fight vote fraud, but offer no evidence such fraud exists in Ohio.

Under the law, time periods for early and absentee voting before Election Day would be reduced, even though both conveniences are increasingly popular. Counties no longer could mail applications for absentee ballots to all registered voters, as Lucas County now does.

The law would make it harder to count provisional ballots, cast by voters whose eligibility is initially questioned. At the same time, poll workers no longer would be required to correct voters when they come to the wrong location in a polling place that handles several precincts.

These restrictions would especially affect poor, elderly, and minority Ohioans, as well as college students; these groups are more likely to vote Democratic. That isn't a coincidence.

After the election law passed last year, Democrats collected enough petition signatures to place it before voters this November. They claim repealing the law now would violate the state constitution.

Republicans counter that Democrats want to use the referendum campaign to raise money and turn out their voters in November. Of course, conservatives plan to use a proposed right-to-work ballot initiative for the same purposes.

If the election bill is repealed, Republicans pledge to negotiate with Democrats on ballot reform. Democrats note, accurately, that bipartisan cooperation has not been a hallmark of this legislative session. They worry that once the referendum threat has passed, Republicans again will ignore them and enact discriminatory voting changes.

That's a valid fear. But it's more important to ensure the law does not distort this November's election, by confusing voters over which set of rules is in effect. Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, estimates that preparing for the referendum could cost the state $1 million.

Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers should show their good faith by eliminating restrictions on early voting on the weekend before Election Day, which are included in another law they passed last year. The Senate refused to do so this week.

But first things first: Repeal the discredited election law now. If Republican lawmakers then show contempt for Ohio voters yet again, voters will have ample opportunity to return the favor.



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