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Published: Thursday, 10/20/2005

Ohio House endorses no-fault absentee voting

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Without the uproar that accompanied Senate passage the day before, the state House yesterday swiftly approved a bill bringing no-fault absentee voting to Ohio.

Democrats insisted later their silence on the floor did not mean they disagree with their Senate counterparts that the sudden movement of the bill is a Republican attempt to undermine a proposed constitutional amendment on the subject on the Nov. 8 ballot.

"It's just obvious," House Democratic Leader Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island) said. "Sometimes you don't really need to tell your colleagues what's happening here. ... It's a cynical attempt by those in leadership to go around the process and to take away the voice of the people of the state."

The bill passed the chamber 60-36, with one Democrat joining Republicans in support. The bill passed the Senate Tuesday 22-11 entirely along party lines.

Orest Holubec, spokesman for Gov. Bob Taft, said the governor likes the idea of no-fault absentee ballots, but he wants to study identification requirements included in the bill before deciding whether to sign it.

Even if Mr. Taft should sign the bill quickly, it would not become law in time to affect absentee voting for the Nov. 8 election.

The bill, like Issue 2 on next month's ballot, would allow voters to cast ballots by mail or in person up to 35 days early without having to provide a reason why they can't make it to their polling places on election day.

Current law provides 16 excuses for voters to request absentee ballots, including military duty, illness, disability, or out-of-town commitments.

Unlike Issue 2, the bill requires absentee voters to provide proof of identification when they request the ballot and when they submit it.

The bill drew more Democratic support last spring when the House included the language in a different election-reform bill that has yet to be taken up by the Senate.

"One of the reasons [Democrats didn't speak up on the floor] is it hurts Issue 2's chances of passing if you start talking about the fact that we've already given voters the ability to do this legislatively," House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) said.

Issue 2 is part of a package of four proposed constitutional amendments being pushed by Reform Ohio Now, a coalition of Democratic factions, unions, environmental groups, and governmental watchdog organizations.

The other amendments would take congressional and legislative redistricting out of the hands of elected officials, strip the secretary of state of his election oversight authority, and overhaul limits on campaign contributions.

Should Issue 2 pass at the polls, the constitutional amendment would trump the just-passed law.

Unlike the bill, the amendment does not contain the ID requirements and would allow absentee ballots to be counted up to 10 days after the election if postmarked by election day.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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