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Published: Saturday, 2/22/2014

Kasich signs early voting bills that get rid of 'Golden Week'

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Despite calls from Democrats and voting-rights advocates for him to veto them, Gov. John Kasich on Friday wasted little time signing into law a pair of bills that critics charge will undermine early voting in Ohio.

Senate Bill 238, sponsored by Sen. Frank LaRose (R., Fairlawn), gets rid of the so-called Golden Week, the overlap between absentee voting and registration deadlines that allowed people to register and then immediately cast a ballot that would be counted only after the registration checked out.

It reduces the number of days that people may cast an absentee ballot by mail or in person from 35 days to 29 days before an election.

Senate Bill 205, sponsored by Sen. Bill Coley (R., West Chester), would increase the items of identifying information that absentee voters would have to provide in order for their ballots to be counted.

It would also prohibit any public official other than the secretary of state from mass- mailing applications for absentee ballots to registered voters. Even then, the mailing could occur only in even-numbered years when the General Assembly appropriates the funding.

“It allows absentee ballots and applications to be rejected for minor paperwork mistakes. In short, it makes absentee voting harder,” wrote Carrie Davis, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, in a letter to Mr. Kasich on Friday urging him to veto the bills.

Mr. Kasich signed them without comment. They will go into effect in 90 days unless blocked by court action. The Ohio Democratic Party has already vowed to sue.

Two of three other election-related bills that were passed by Republican majorities and signed into law by Mr. Kasich in the last few months have already been placed on hold by federal courts at least through the 2014 elections.

Republicans have contended that the Golden Week bill was needed to clear up confusion with county boards of elections. Golden Week was presented as an unintentional consequence of legislation passed in the wake of long lines at the polls in 2004 that created no-fault absentee voting in which any Ohioan could choose to cast such a ballot without having to explain why he couldn’t show up at the polls on Election Day.

“I am disheartened that this bipartisan legislative recommendation, supported by Democratic and Republican secretaries of state, introduced previously by Minority Leader (Tracy) Heard, and passed with unanimous House Democrat support in 2008 was turned into a political issue,” state Rep. Mike Dovilla (R., Berea) said after Wednesday’s House votes.

“Ohioans deserve elected officials who are able to put sound policy over sound-bite politics,” he said.

The ban on mass-mailing of absentee ballot applications by anyone other than the secretary of state was pushed by Republicans who argued that it was unfair for large urban counties with larger budgets to do such mailings when smaller counties could not afford to do so.

Democrats, however, have argued that the bills are a reaction to strong early-vote support for President Obama in 2012 and would have a disproportionate effect on urban and minority voters who have been more likely to support their candidates.

Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive and leading Democratic candidate to take on Mr. Kasich in November, said he has talked to the county’s law director about a possible lawsuit. The county is one of those that had mass-mailed absentee-ballot applications to all registered voters in the past.

“To me it’s another example of misplaced priorities," he said. “There’s over 400,000 people out of work in Ohio. We’re 45th in the country in job creation recently. That’s what the focus should be on. Again, I think what should be the agenda of the state has been hijacked in a lot of ways by extreme ideology that sometimes the governor is part of, sometimes he goes along with, and sometimes it’s not quite clear.”

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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