Ohio’s march toward what’s expected to be a nationally watched 2012 election took an apparently unprecedented step Tuesday, one that could put election officials into court before a ballot is cast. The potential scenario emerged Tuesday when Gov. John Kasich signed a law that repeals a controversial election bill passed in 2011 by the GOP-dominated General Assembly. The 2011 bill, which created voting restrictions that Democrats and some good-government groups decried, was to go before voters in November. The gambit, apparently the first time that Ohio legislators have ever effectively killed a referendum destined for voters, sets up a possible lawsuit over a question that could impact this fall’s election: May state legislators repeal a bill that has not yet taken effect and that is up for referendum? Democrats argue the answer is no.
They and voting rights advocates complain that Senate Bill 295 isn’t a true repeal but a poison pill – because it restricts early voting by not allowing Ohioans to cast ballots at boards of elections on the three days before Nov. 6. “If the legislature had truly wanted to return the clock to where it was,… it would have eliminated that last-three-day restriction,” said Carrie Davis, executive director of the League of Woman Voters of Ohio. “But it didn’t.”
Opponents argue the GOP’s unspoken motivation is to avert a November referendum that could drive up turnout – much as occurred in 2011 with the repeal of Senate Bill 5, a contentious labor law reform that the legislature passed with solid Republican backing. “If you want to figure out why they don’t want people voting the weekend before the election, just go back and look at who stood in line on Saturday and Sunday in 2008. Those were heavily Obama voters,” said Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke. “The Republicans know that, and they’re trying to do anything to prevent it from happening again.”