With a presidential election behind them, Ohio lawmakers passed several bills Wednesday to make changes to the battleground state’s election laws. One measure was more contentious than the other: It would restrict the time groups have to collect the extra signatures needed to make sure their ballot questions get before voters. Under the proposal, groups couldn’t gather additional signatures until the secretary of state notifies them whether their initial petitions have fallen short. Current law already allows groups 10 days to file any added signatures once they get notification from the state’s elections chief. But campaigns typically continue to collect signatures after they submit their initial petitions to maximize their time to get additional names. That time has varied, depending on how long it takes election officials to certify that the initial signatures are from valid Ohio voters.
Supporters say they want groups to have the same amount of time to gather extra signatures, while opponents argue the bill erodes Ohioans referendum and ballot initiative rights. State Rep. Mike Dovilla, a Berea Republican, said the measure gives everyone equal time to get an issue on the ballot regardless of their political leanings.
Dovilla said all Ohioans would get the constitutionally required 90 days to collect signatures for a referendum and 10 additional days to gather the insufficient signatures “no matter what group you belong to, no matter what the issue is at hand, and no matter which individual from whatever political party happens to occupy the office of secretary of state.”
State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat from Kent, called the bill “a solution in search of a problem.” Clyde said the measure makes it more difficult for people to bring about a ballot question and opens the state up to litigation. “The right to referendum is a very important check the people have to push back on abuses of this Legislature,” Clyde said. “This bill is a direct attack on that sacred right.”