Ohio Senate Republicans on Thursday set into motion a plan to repeal a controversial election law and replace it with new changes that would take effect before the November election. But the House Speaker isn’t yet on board with the plan, and a group of voting rights advocates have vowed to seek a referendum — with the backing of President Barack Obama’s campaign — if Ohio lawmakers pass a new elections law. A bill was introduced Thursday to repeal House Bill 194 — the election law overhaul package GOP lawmakers passed last year that restricted opportunities for early voting and made other changes that opponents said amounted to voter suppression.
Democrats and others have gathered enough signatures to put the law up for a vote this November. Until then, the law remains on hold. If the law is repealed, the referendum issue would be moot, although it still might be on the ballot. Senate President Tom Niehaus, a Republican from Clermont County, said he hopes to have a bipartisan discussion to reach a compromise on election reforms that can be put into place before November.
“Some changes can likely wait until after the November election, but others are needed this year to provide clarity in advance of one of the largest turnout elections Ohio will face in this decade,” Niehaus said in a statement. But House Speaker William G. Batchelder, a Republican from Medina, said the Senate GOP’s plan caught him off guard. He said repealing HB 194 while it is slated for a referendum might be unconstitutional.