By Ann Sanner
COLUMBUS — Opponents of Ohio’s new elections law plan today to submit enough signatures to the state’s top election official to put the measure on temporary hold while they continue to try to get a repeal question on 2012 ballots.
Among other changes, the law shortens the pivotal presidential swing state’s early voting window and bans in-person voting on Sundays.
The state’s Democratic Party, President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and others have been circulating petitions and gathering signatures in their effort to block the law.
Ohio Democratic Party chairman Chris Redfern told reporters earlier this week that the groups would hand in more than 300,000 signatures to Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican who supports the elections overhaul. Elections officials would have to verify the names to make sure they meet state requirements.
Opponents need about 231,000 valid signatures to get a referendum on the law before voters next year. If they are successful, the law would be in limbo until after the presidential election. That’s the earliest chance for voters to decide whether the law should be tossed out.
The ballot repeal push does have consequences for the Nov. 8 election, when voters will decide whether to get rid of the state’s contentious new collective bargaining law.
The start date for early voting this fall has been left up in the air while the groups have been collecting signatures.
By submitting their petitions today, the opponents would halt the elections law from going into effect on Friday. That means local election officials would have to operate under the old law, with early voting starting on Tuesday.
The elections measure cleared the Republican-controlled state Legislature in late June with no Democratic support.
The law shortens the in-person early voting window from 35 days before Election Day to 17 days, and the period for absentee voting by mail from 35 days to 21. The cuts effectively eliminate a five-day period during which new voters could both register and cast a ballot on the same day.
The state’s new overhaul also bans local boards of elections from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot requests to voters, but Husted has agreed to send the requests to voters in all counties in 2012. Boards in Ohio’s larger, urban counties — those that tend to vote more Democratic — have typically made such solicitations
Husted has argued that each of the state’s 88 counties should have the same early voting hours and be open on the same days. He and his fellow Republicans contend it’s unfair that a voter in one county can cast an early ballot on a day when a voter in a neighboring county cannot.
Democrats contend the new law will lead to longer lines and make it difficult for working people to cast a ballot.
About 30 percent of the state’s total vote — or roughly 1.7 million ballots — came in ahead of Election Day in 2008.
Ohio is one of 32 states that allow voters to cast an early ballot by mail or in person without an excuse.