Senate Republicans began last week a push to repeal House Bill 194, a controversial elections law that passed last year, only to be put on hold by a referendum drive. With the law up for a statewide vote in November, Republicans hope to wipe the issue off the ballot, avoiding what is likely to be an embarrassing defeat at the polls.
Although there has been talk on the Republican side about reaching a compromise with Democrats on a revised bill before November, the repeal measure, set to come up again today in the Senate, has been touted as straightforward legislation, merely setting the stage for further discussion.
As it is, after a careful examination, State Rep. Kathleen Clyde made a disturbing discovery. The Kent Democrat found that the Senate’s “repeal” bill, Senate Bill 295, really amounts to a sneak attack. Instead of simply striking down House Bill 194, the repeal bill seeks to reinstate one of the most objectionable features — imposing a deadline on in-person absentee voting starting the Friday before Election Day, cutting off a three-day window when interest reaches its peak.
The status of that early deadline remains unclear. Yes, the referendum drive put H.B. 194 on hold. Then, last summer, Republicans amended a separate bill, one mainly devoted to military and overseas voting, to try once again to kill those final three days of in-person absentee balloting.
At the time, Democrats objected to the amendment, arguing it would make the referendum process meaningless. Initially, Jon Husted, the secretary of state and a Republican, seemed to agree, asking lawmakers for clarification. Then, he wobbled, opting for the party line. He argued the legislature gave him no choice but to cut short early voting in last November’s election.
It is that confusion about early voting Republicans are, again, trying to paper over with S.B. 295, burying the change in 350 pages of language reconciling various sections of Ohio elections law.
There are many voting procedures in Ohio that need to be fixed. A stripped-down repeal bill would be a good start, avoiding the confusion of a referendum on Election Day. After votes have been counted, as Husted first suggested, Republicans and Democrats should restart the conversation to find common ground.