Elections bill passed by divided Ohio House: Registration would be easier, 'golden week' eliminated

Elections bill passed by divided Ohio House: Registration would be easier, ‘golden week’ eliminated

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Mark Niquette, The Columbus Dispatch, November 19, 2009. COLUMBUS — The Ohio House passed a bill yesterday over Republican objections to make sweeping changes to how elections are run in the state, including expanding the number of sites where voters can cast early absentee ballots.

But the bill, which the Democrat-controlled House passed 52-46 along party lines, now faces an uncertain future in the GOP-led Senate.

The Senate has been considering its own elections bill, and the sponsor, Sen. Bill Seitz, said he urged the House to delay yesterday’s vote to seek compromises toward passing one bill. But he said he was told that House leaders wouldn’t wait.

“Unfortunately, due to the decision they made, this will be a much-protracted process,” said Seitz, R-Cincinnati.

House Speaker Armond Budish, D-Beachwood, said he doesn’t see why the House vote should delay final passage of a bill in time to incorporate the changes for the May 2010 primary, as supporters want.

“I believe the bill we just passed today is an excellent bill,” he said.

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat who supports the House bill and convened two summits to consider changes after the 2008 election, watched the vote in the House yesterday and said she’s confident the two chambers can pass a bill.

“We’re really hopeful from our discussions with the Senate that we’re able to find some common ground and move at least some of these reforms forward,” Brunner said.

The House bill would make changes to virtually all aspects of the voting process. It addresses many concerns from past elections, including eliminating the “golden week” overlap between the start of early absentee voting and the voter-registration deadline 30 days before an election.

The bill would streamline the processes for showing identification at the polls and for casting provisional ballots. It also would allow online voter registration and automatic updating of registrations when voters move or change their name.

Republicans complained that the bill removes too much responsibility from voters to follow election rules and shifts too much decision-making from local elections officials to the secretary of state.

“This bill is a blatant power grab,” said state Rep. Robert Mecklenborg, R-Cincinnati, who is the ranking minority member on the Elections and Ethics Committee.

Rep. Dan Stewart, D-Columbus, who is the committee’s chairman, said the bill continues efforts to improve elections since the problems Ohio experienced in the 2004 presidential election.

“We want to continue to make voting easier for voters” but ensure “that it is secure and avoids any kind of fraud, and we’ve done that,” Stewart said.

Dispatch reporter Jim Siegel contributed to this story.