June 26, 2016

Partly sunny

Party heads spar over changes to early voting laws

MEDINA — Local Democrats are joining state party leaders in opposing recent changes to Ohio’s early voting laws including a change that cut short early voting by seven days and eliminated the “golden week” where voters could both register and vote in the same day.

“When I was 21, the biggest thing I could do was vote,” said Medina County Democratic Party Chairman John Welker. “And now, we see attempts to keep people from voting.”

But Republican lawmakers said they were acting in response to a request from local elections officials seeking uniformity throughout the state on early voting.

Senate Majority Whip Larry Obhof, R-Montville Township, said the “golden week” was never intended to be established in a way that could allow people to register and cast a ballot on the same day.

“Golden week was an accident,” Obhof said. “Under the Ohio Constitution, you can register to vote up to 30 days before an election.”

Extended early voting laws had the unintended consequence of creating the “golden week,” Obhof said.

“It meant if you show up 34 or 35 days before an election to register you can also cast your ballot, and the board of elections can’t do any of the things they would normally do to verify your voter registration,” he said.

Obhof also defended Ohio’s early voting period as being much longer than neighboring states, and twice as long as the 14-day minimum request by President Barack Obama’s administration.

“We’re still among the most generous in the country,” Obhof said. “It was about making things effective for (the local boards of election); it shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”

But Welker said local Democrats disagree and point to another bill signed by Gov. John Kasich on Friday that levies more restrictions on voters who cast provisional ballots. That most recent bill signing prompted state Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern to send a fundraising email to supporters promising legal action will be filed against state lawmakers for the changes to voting rules.

In addition to the two laws signed by Kasich, Secretary of State John Husted issued a directive about a week ago that eliminated voting on Sundays.

In a news release, Husted said the request for changes came from the Ohio Association of Elections Officials and represents both Democratic and Republican elections officials statewide. Husted said his directive was aimed at establishing uniformity throughout the state.

But Welker disagreed. He said he recalled the long lines in 2012 on Sundays at the Medina County Board of Elections, and said the lines were proof that people use early and Sunday voting to avoid missing time from work or other obligations when casting their ballot.

“There were residents young and old, there were whites and Hispanics; it wasn’t just one group of people,” Welker said. “If we restrict that, we’re not doing our voters a favor. We need to provide them with more opportunities to vote.”

Nancy Abbott, chairwoman of the Medina County Republican Party, said she thinks there already were enough opportunities to vote early.

“You can vote after work and on Saturdays,” Abbott said. “I think there are a lot of opportunities to vote early.

“I guess the Democrats would like us to drive to each person’s home and hand them a ballot and return it for them.”

Abbott also pointed out that Ohio Democrats voted against early voting in 2005, and in 2009 voted to eliminate the “golden week.”

“It’s been the Republicans who have increased the ways to vote and the time to vote,” she said.

Welker said he’s not sure why Democrats previously had been opposed to early voting, but said Democrats have come to support more time for voting while Republicans are moving in the other direction.

“They opened up early voting, now they’re trying to close it down,” Welker said. “That’s also a little bit of hypocrisy.”

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.