The Ohio Senate OK’d legislation Wednesday that would repeal controversial GOP-backed election reform that is the subject of a November ballot issue. The final vote on Senate Bill 295 was a party-line 23-10, with Democrats vehemently opposed. “You have messed up election laws and where people and how people vote this entire general assembly,” said Sen. Mike Skindell, a Democrat from the Cleveland area. “And this is a prime example of your disaster in election laws in this state. You are undermining the will of the people. You’re trying to subvert the referendum process….” The legislation heads to the Ohio House, where some Republican leaders have voiced concern about the constitutionality of a repeal. Republican House Speaker Bill Batchelder, from Medina, told reporters Wednesday that there was no precedent for such a move, though he would support a repeal.
But Sen. Bill Coley, a Republican from southwestern Ohio and primary sponsor of SB 295, said his bill accomplishes what the group behind the ballot issue wants. “This bill is a straight repeal,” he said. Sen. Bill Seitz, a Republican from Cincinnati, added, “All that this bill does is restore the law as it would exist were the repeal successful.”
House Bill 194, which was passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed into law last year by Gov. John Kasich, proposed a number of changes to Ohio’s election laws, including eliminating the so-called “golden week” during which people can register to vote and cast ballots on the same day and prohibiting election boards from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications to eligible voters. Proponents believe the changes are needed to help prevent fraud and ensure election rules are applied consistently. But opponents say the changes will make it harder for the elderly, low-income residents and minorities to cast ballots.