Cuyahoga County Council voted along party lines Tuesday night to assert the county’s right to mail unsolicited absentee ballot applications, despite a new state law that forbids the county from doing so. Identical to a preliminary committee vote last week, eight council Democrats voted to approve County Executive Ed FitzGerald’s “voting rights law,” with council’s three Republican members dissenting. The ordinance says the county will mail postage prepaid voting applications to county voters as necessary. FitzGerald, a Democrat who is running for governor, said the county would only do so if the state doesn’t. Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted has said he will mail the applications statewide before the upcoming November election, but any future mailings would require approval from the state legislature.
Republican council members said on Tuesday that FitzGerald’s new law is illegal under state law, and could put the county on a costly collision course with the state government. “We’re setting ourselves up potentially for a lawsuit, and we’ve thrown up the gauntlets saying bring it on,” said Councilman Jack Schron, a Republican.
Council Democrats acknowledged the possibility of a legal battle over the measure, but said it’s a fight worth fighting. “That’s the price we’re paying. Not for a stamp, but for our voters to exercise their rights,” said Councilwoman Sunny Simon, a Democrat who co-sponsored the measure. She added she believes the state law violates federal law.
The new county law saw some last-minute drama after Republican state lawmakers on Monday threatened to slash Cuyahoga County’s local government funding by $1.7 million if the county were to follow through with the mailings. In response to the threat, FitzGerald on Tuesday morning said the county wouldn’t be “blackmailed,” and asked for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.