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Published: 2/2/2006

Election law opponents may try to get voters to repeal measure

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - The ink from Gov. Bob Taft's pen barely dry, opponents to Ohio's controversial new elections law are pondering whether to launch an effort to ask voters to repeal it.

"There's been a lot of discussion within all activist groups about what the next step should be," said Peg Rosenfield, spokesman for the League of Women Voters of Ohio. "Should there be a referendum or a court challenge or what?"

The Ohio House and Senate voted 57-40 and 21-12 respectively Tuesday to send Mr. Taft the final version of the bill, which, among numerous other things, requires voters to show some form of identification. The bills passed solely on the backs of Republicans.

Mr. Taft quickly signed the bill so that the 90-day clock for when it would take effect could run before the May 2 primary election.

But some provisions, including the voter ID requirement, would be delayed until after June 1.

"The integrity of the system is more important that anything else," said state Rep. Kevin DeWine (R., Fairborn), the bill's sponsor.

"It's more important than voter convenience. It's more important than the games that were played in the months and the years leading up to the election last year.

"The other side wants to stand up and talk about the fact that there are only four cases of fraud," he said. "I can show you case after case of registering dead people, literally thousands of faulty registration forms submitted to election boards around the state."

Cliff Arnebeck, attorney with Alliance for Democracy, said a repeal petition effort would need $250,000 on the table before it starts gathering the 193,740 signatures needed before the 90 days are up. That's the equivalent of 6 percent of the votes cast in the 2002 gubernatorial election.

If the groups are successful, the law would be placed on hold until voters decide whether to repeal it in November.

The repeal effort would operate under current signature-gathering rules.

It would need 100 signatures, instead of 1,000 under the new law, to submit referendum language to the attorney general for review.

The effort could also employ out-of-state petition circulators, a process that would be outlawed under the new law.

The last time a law was successfully repealed through referendum was in 1997, when an organized effort led by labor and trial lawyers convinced voters to undo legislative changes affecting workers compensation benefits.

Dan Tokaji, an Ohio State University assistant law professor specializing in election law, said a number of provisions could be subject to court challenge.

"This is a pretty massive bill," he said. "It's going to take years to sort out the technical and legal complexities. It will be a massive headache not just for voters but also for election officials and poll workers. This is bad news for them.

"It's good news for election lawyers and law professors," he said. "It shows that election law continues to be a growth industry in Ohio for better or for worse."

Mr. Tokaji said challenges could be raised over the rules for counting provisional ballots, including those cast by voters who don't have a driver's license, military ID, utility bill, paycheck, or some government document containing their names and addresses.

He said a First Amendment constitutional challenge could be brought against the provision outlawing the use of non-Ohioans to circulate petitions. He also questioned a provision prohibiting the filing of challenges to federal elections in state courts.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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