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Published: Wednesday, 12/3/2008

Senate GOP pushes election changes

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Senate Republicans yesterday prepared to push election reforms through a lame-duck session despite Democratic arguments that errors from past lame-duck rushing caused some of the problems they're now trying to fix.

As Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner presided over a summit of election officials, county commissioners, voting-rights advocates, and others in Columbus, a Senate committee was considering a bill to get rid of the flaw in Ohio law that led to a controversial five-day period this year in which would-be voters simultaneously registered and cast absentee ballots.

The bill also would force the state's top elections official to turn over to local boards of elections a list of would-be voters in which information on registration applications does not match information in federal and state computer databases.

That issue was often litigated before the Nov. 4 election but never fully resolved, despite going to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati), told the State and Local Government and Veterans Affairs Committee that the bill would eliminate the so-called "golden week" of same-day voting by moving the registration deadline up to 65 days before an election for anyone wishing to cast an absentee ballot.

The registration deadline for in-person voting on Election Day would remain 30 days before the election.

"We are absolutely not requiring registration earlier than 30 days before an election," he said. "That applies only if the voter wants to vote absentee."

He conceded that the conflicts created by Ohio's absentee-voting law, which allows such ballots to be cast 35 days before an election and also allows the registration deadline of 30 days before an election, existed prior to Ms. Brunner's tenure as secretary of state.

"This fix is not targeted in a partisan manner against the current secretary of state," Mr. Seitz said.

Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) protested the fast pace of the bill, which is expected to reach the Senate floor next week. She argued that Ohio avoided the major problems in the 2008 election that many had predicted.

"Why rush to fix issues that have not been fully vetted?" she asked.

Gov. Ted Strickland has said he would prefer that lawmakers not rush through important legislation in the few days left before the current two-year session draws to a close prior to Christmas. After the first of the year, Republicans will relinquish control of the House of Representatives to Democrats for the first time in 14 years.

"There's an election summit today with the best minds in and outside of elections to see that went right and what could be improved," said Brunner spokesman Jeff Ortega. "We're looking forward to working with the governor and the legislators on comprehensive election reform that is well thought out. We view the lame-duck session as not the opportune time to have a carefully reasoned bill."

Ms. Brunner has said she would support shortening the absentee and early voting period to 20 days before an election, which would eliminate the "golden week."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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