COLUMBUS — They know it’s a high hurdle, but a group of black clergy, civil rights advocates, and Democratic lawmakers vowed Thursday to etch protections for Ohio voters into the state constitution.
They’re aiming for the November general election ballot, knowing they’ll have five months to gather what likely will have to be over half a million signatures.
“There’ll be some who say we can’t do it cause we’re not rich,” said state Rep. Alicia Reece (D., Cincinnati). “There’ll be some who’ll say let’s spend a lot of time on the language and this and thus, this comma, that period…We’re here to say…we can’t wait another 50 years. We got to get it done now.”
Starting in black churches and at Martin Luther King, Jr., celebrations this weekend, the group plans to gather the initial 1,000 signatures to submit the proposed language to Attorney General Mike DeWine for his review. Once the attorney general signs off that the summary to be shown to would-be petition signers is accurate, volunteers could hit the streets.
A little more than 385,000 valid signatures of registered voters must be gathered. But ballot issue efforts typically need far more than that to ensure enough will survive the scrutiny of county boards of elections. They face a deadline of July 2.
Such an effort often requires strong organization, money, and professional petition circulators, but Ms. Reece and those gathered at Trinity Baptist Church in Columbus aim to use volunteers.
There were Democratic lawmakers in the church, including a couple of candidates for statewide office, but it’s unclear how much help the effort will get from the Ohio Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, and labor groups.
“The Ohio Democratic Party stands ready to protect voting rights at every opportunity,” party Chairman Chris Redfern said. “We support Rep. Reece’s efforts.”
The minimum hours of early voting in the amendment conflict with the schedule Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, put out Wednesday that ends early voting for the May 6 primary election at noon the Saturday before the election.
The amendment provides for weekend and evening hours on top of an election board’s regular business hours. It requires the state to make absentee ballot applications generally available, including through electronic means.
It would broaden the current menu of forms of identification voters can show at the polls and allow voters to register online.
Ballots could not be rejected for what is found to be poll worker error, and provisional ballots could not be rejected in their entirety if they were cast in the right county but in the wrong precinct.
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