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Published: Wednesday, 10/19/2005

Ohio Senate GOP approves own bill for absentee ballots

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Senate Republicans yesterday pushed through a bill designed to undermine the chances of a broader measure on the Nov. 8 ballot that allows voters to cast absentee ballots as early as 35 days before an election without having to indicate a reason.

As recently as this spring, when the Ohio House approved a similar measure with bipartisan support, the Senate GOP balked at the idea.

A similar measure passed the Senate 22-11 yesterday along party lines. Democrats argued the change of heart was the result of the popularity of Issue 2 with voters.

"This is a not-bad idea whose time will come," said Sen. Jeff Jacobson (R., Vandalia), who has been no fan of no-fault absentee ballots in the past.

"It will come either way," he said. "I prefer that it comes without us doing lasting damage to the constitution, lasting damage to our state, and lasting damage to the sanctity of our vote."

At one point, Senate Minority Leader C.J. Prentiss (D., Cleveland) donned masking tape over her mouth, imitating a man in a current commercial aired by opponents of four election-related amendments on the ballot.

The ad claims approval of the ballot issues would cost Ohioans their voice and vote.

"We all know the reason for that timing," said Sen. Eric Fingerhut (D., Cleveland).

"It's to somehow persuade voters that the matter has been taken care of and, therefore, dissuade them from enacting a constitutional amendment on the subject.

"I think it is fair to say that there is some suspicion that the conversion to no-fault absentee balloting may not be a fully sincere conversion," Mr. Fingerhut said.

"There is a risk that what the legislature giveth, the legislature could taketh away," the senator added.

House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) said his chamber will probably swiftly send the bill to Gov. Bob Taft.

The language was added to a House bill allowing high school seniors to volunteer as poll workers.

The no-fault absentee balloting issue could be moot if voters still approve Issue 2 at the polls. A constitutional amendment would trump the statute.

Both the proposed bill and the constitutional amendment would allow voters to cast absentee ballots as early as 35 days before the election without having to attest to one of 16 excuses under current law.

Among the valid reasons are military duty, illness, or out-of-town commitments.

Unlike the proposed constitutional amendment, however, the proposed statute would require voters to provide some form of identification when requesting the ballot and when submitting it.

Democrats have compared the requirement to poll tests and other obstacles used in the past to deny the vote to blacks and women.

Permitted forms of identification range from a driver's license or other government identification card to a utility bill or the last four digits of a Social Security number.

Polls have shown that the no-fault absentee ballot issue is the most popular of the four placed on the ballot by Reform Ohio Now, a coalition of Democratic factions, labor unions, government watchdog groups, and environmental organizations.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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