State Sen. Nina Turner called the GOP’s attempts to limit voting, including cutting back the early voting period, immoral.
Turner told an Akron audience Thursday that, if elected secretary of state, she would fight to expand and promote voting.
“The policies being pushed right now are immoral,” Turner told a crowd of about 75 people at an Akron Press Club luncheon. “People are being faced with obstacles to thwart their access to vote.”
Turner, the Democratic candidate for secretary of state in 2014, kicked off the press club’s fall speaker series, which the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics co-sponsors.
The press club has extended an invitation to Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, to speak.
Turner, D-Cleveland, a former Cleveland councilwoman, called voting the “strongest pillar of a representative democracy,” and said the right wing of the Republican Party is making a concerted effort in Ohio and other states to chip away at this right. She said the effort threatens the gains made since the civil rights movement, when African-Americans were threatened, beaten and killed fighting for the right to vote.
“The policies being used today might not be barking dogs or water hoses,” she said. “It’s a different battle but the same war.”
Turner said Republican lawmakers backed by the tea party have introduced 82 restrictive voting bills in 31 states this year, including legislation with more stringent voter identification requirements or narrowing the window for early voting. She said the legislation would have the greatest affect on senior citizens, minorities and working-class people.
“I thought that this battle was settled, but my goodness was I wrong,” she said.
Turner said one bill pending in the Ohio legislature would cut the state’s early voting period from 35 days to 17, while another would limit absentee voting to normal business hours.
Turner also was critical of Husted and actions he took last year, including continuing to appeal a case that eliminated early voting in the weekend before the election, firing two Montgomery County elections board members who voted to allow early voting on the days leading to the election, and issuing last-minute directives to elections boards that might have confused voters.
“That created an environment of fear and uncertainty,” she said. “No Ohioan should have to face that.”
Turner said she favors legislation proposed by state Sen. Frank LaRose — and backed by Husted — that would allow Ohio residents to register and request absentee ballots online.
In the question-and-answer period after Turner’s 20-minute remarks, though, she said she wouldn’t support Ohio changing to voting only by mail, which is now done in certain states, such as Oregon. She thinks people should have the choice of voting early by mail or on Election Day in person, as they now do in Ohio.
“I like to go to my polling place,” she said.
Turner was among the state lawmakers who crafted a bipartisan proposal to change how Ohio draws state legislative and congressional lines, which the state Senate approved with almost unanimous support. She is hopeful that it will win House approval when lawmakers return to session. She is buoyed that a constitutional modernization committee that includes House Speaker Bill Batchelder, R-Medina, and state Rep. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, is discussing redistricting.
“This is the year to do it,” she said.
In an interview after the luncheon, Turner said she would create a Voting Modernization Commission made up of elected officials and citizens that would meet regularly and look for ways to improve the election process, like new technology to make voting easier. The commission would make recommendations to the legislature.
Turner acknowledged that one of the obstacles to elections boards getting new technology is the cost and their limited budgets. She thinks the state should find ways to provide funds to the boards and lobby the federal government to help with these costs.
“We should make this a priority — and not let the expense stand in the way,” she said.