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Published: Wednesday, 12/10/2008

Senate passes bill reducing time for absentee voting

BY JIM SIEGEL
COLUMBUS DISPATCH

COLUMBUS - A bill that eliminates "Golden Week" by shortening the time in which Ohioans can cast absentee ballots passed the Senate yesterday over objections from Democrats, including Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

Moments after the bill passed the Senate 19-11, Ms. Brunner's office blasted the legislation as "another example of hastily written legislation that will create administrative problems for county elections boards and invite litigation."

The debate is one of many as the legislature scrambles through the last two weeks of the 127th General Assembly.

Gov. Ted Strickland issued his first veto threat of the lame-duck session, saying he will kill a plan to pay for veterans' bonuses with up to $200 million in state reserve funds. However, it's likely the new Democratic-controlled House will revive the issue next year, paying for it with debt financing, which Mr. Strickland supports. House GOP leaders have argued against using more debt.

A House committee yesterday passed the bill, which would use the state rainy-day fund for bonuses to veterans serving in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf.

"Considering the historic budget challenges before us, I do not believe it is fiscally responsible to pay for this worthy priority with rainy-day funds that are designed to be used for budget emergencies," Mr. Strickland said.

With the elections bill, Republicans ended Golden Week, the five-day period that allowed people to register and vote on the same day, by reducing from 35 to 20 the number of days Ohioans have to cast an absentee ballot. The bill would allow counties to open two more sites for in-person early voting.

The bill also would require the secretary of state to turn over to county elections boards the names of voters whose information did not match lists in state or federal databases.

Democrats asked, "Why rush?" Republicans replied, "Why wait?"

Ms. Brunner urged lawmakers to work with her elections summit process to make comprehensive changes next year.

"We are dealing with the issues [Ms. Brunner] herself said needed to be resolved," Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati) said.

The House will try to move the bill next week.



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