After a heated debate, the Ohio Senate yesterday voted to repeal House Bill 194, the election-law overhaul passed last year that Democrats and progressive groups are challenging on the November ballot. Democrats objected to the repeal after unsuccessfully trying to amend the bill so that in-person early voting could take place on the weekend and Monday before Election Day. Democrats and some voter-rights groups have argued that voting should be allowed in the days leading up to the election because that follows the law that was in place before the passage of House Bill 194. But Republicans passed a similar early-voting provision in a separate bill, House Bill 224, last year after passing House Bill 194. They have argued that even if House Bill 194 was repealed by voters in November, early voting would still be banned on those three days before the election. Sen. Michael Skindell, D-Lakewood, disagreed, saying that if House Bill 194 went down, the early-voting provision of House Bill 224 also would fall.
Democrats also argued it’s unconstitutional for lawmakers to remove an issue from the ballot because Ohioans have a right to vote through the referendum process. Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney, D-Cincinnati, said Republicans were trying to substitute their judgment for that of the people, about 300,000 of whom signed petitions to put the measure on the ballot. “You can’t take away the rights of the people,” said Sen. Charleta B. Tavares, D-Columbus. “The people initiated the referendum, and the people have to be the ones who take it off the ballot.”
Republicans, however, noted that Democrats last year supported the repeal of Senate Bill 5 after it was certified for the November ballot. “I continue to be baffled (by the debate) when we are doing exactly what the people who are putting the referendum on the ballot asked us to do,” said Senate President Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond.