Outside the Statehouse, Ohio’s election system is designed to run as a bipartisan machine in which the two parties watch over the process, and each other, to ensure that no one gains an unfair advantage. Inside the Statehouse is very different. “Elections are the only game in town where the players get to make their own rules,” said Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Elections Officials. Few issues have led to more-heated partisan rhetoric than election-law changes. Nearly every significant proposal is greeted with cries of voter suppression, disenfranchisement and racism from Democrats whose only real chance of stopping the bills are ballot referendums or lawsuits. “Unfortunately, the GOP agenda on changing election laws is not to solve the problems … and to create burdens on voters,” said Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent. “We’re all for common-sense solutions, but that’s not what we’re seeing.” This year, bills altering early voting, provisional balloting, absentee applications and minor-party recognition have ignited fights.
Some of it is posturing by Democrats, said Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati. There is, he said, also an ideological divide, as Republicans think voters have a responsibility “to provide minimally accurate information to the board of elections and take responsibility to getting themselves to the right place at the right time.”
Democrats, he said, want “Kroger voting,” open 24/7, where voters get, at taxpayers’ expense, complete convenience “so they can saunter down there whenever they damn well please.”
Experts say fights over election law are not unique to Ohio and have been going on in some form since the 1920s, but attention to the rules intensified after the 2000 presidential election, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court after a procedural mess in Florida.