Partisan Politics

 
Keep Partisan Politics Out of Election Reform in Ohio

Youngstown Vindicator - March 8, 2011

In the numerous editorials pub- lished in this space about Ohio’s broken election system, there has been one consistent message: True reform will only occur if the governor and state lawmakers set aside politics and encourage the participation of all the stakeholders, including the voters. We’ve delivered this message when there has been a Republican governor and Republican General Assembly, and a Democratic governor and Democratic legislature.

Unfortunately, partisanship has reared its ugly head time and again, thereby preventing the adoption of changes that would restore confidence in the state’s election system and reassure national organizations, such as the League of Women Voters, that the problems tied to the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections are a thing of the past.

Last week, Ohio’s chief elections officer, Jon Husted, the new secretary of state and former speaker of the House of Representatives, unveiled “Ready 2012 and Beyond,” his blueprint to “modernize and improve overall operation of Ohio’s elections and build voter confidence in the results.” We applaud Husted, who took office in January, for moving quickly to put forth proposals that should form the basis for a statewide discussion.

However, it would be a great disservice to the public if Husted limited involvement to Republican Gov. John Kasich and the GOP controlled House and Senate.

 

Four years ago, then Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner launched a similar initiative. Over a period of about six months, there were statewide summits and regional conferences that delved into the shortcomings in Ohio’s system spotlighted in 2004. The sessions also focused on ways to increase voter participation, protect the sanctity of the ballot and guarantee the most accurate vote count. Brunner, a Democrat, heard from Democrats and Republicans. The reports that came out of the summits and conferences provided the state with a close up look at the system as it then existed and what it could be with the proposed changes.

Unfortunately, in 2009, with the Senate in Republican hands and the House controlled by the Democrats, Brunner was not given a seat at the table by the GOP which was considering Senate Bill 8. That bill was similar to the one Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland vetoed soon after he took office in January 2008 because it had been passed in a lame-duck session when the General Assembly was in Republican hands.

Such political games have no place in the reformation of Ohio’s election system.

Boards of elections

The blueprint developed by Husted and his staff deserves serious consideration at the state and local levels. The county boards of elections, which are on the front lines, should be given a chance to have input. Likewise, community and grass-roots organizations that have a particular interest in seeing that elections are open to all legal voters and do not give one party an advantage over another by the way the rules and regulations are written should also have a chance to be heard.

And finally, the legislative committee hearings that will be held before there is a vote on the bill should be open and deliberative. Indeed, we would urge the leaders of the House and Senate to create a special bipartisan panel that would travel around the state to not only explain the changes, many of them significant, that the secretary of state is proposing, but to solicit citizen response.

It is too soon for anyone to offer a credible analysis of “Ready 2012 and Beyond,” but it isn’t too soon for the Republicans, who have a firm grip on state government, to demonstrate the type of leadership on election reform that Ohioans have been demanding since the 2004 presidential election.