To understand the genesis of many election bills introduced this year, you need to remember what happened in 2012.
A contentious law that restricted times and ways Ohioans could vote was under the threat of repeal by voters. So the Republican-run Legislature took matters into its own hands and in an unusual way, repealed that law.
But they incorporated parts of that law into another new law that actually took effect. So Democrats went to court, winning a challenge over whether Ohioans could vote during the weekend before the election.
All of the controversy over voter restrictions or lack thereof fanned the flames of discontent by some who claimed voter fraud was a big problem in Ohio. So Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted looked into those claims and came out with a report early in the year that showed it wasn’t a big problem.
Voter fraud rare but there
“Frankly it concerns me with some of the hyperbole that would circulate around these issues that some of these unsubstantiated claims left unchecked would become conventional wisdom.”
Husted did find problems with about 135 votes of the 5.6 million votes cast. They were investigated and just over a dozen were referred to local prosecutors.
Shortly after Husted’s report, some Democrats came out with their own report that showed voter intimidation and suppression were a bigger problem in 2012. Democratic State Sen.Nina Turner of Cleveland – who is running for secretary of State -- said there were at least 680 incidents reported that could be considered voter suppression yet were not part of Husted’s voter report.
“They thought nobody would be paying attention but surprise, surprise.”
Minor parties face higher hurdles
Turner and other Democrats fought the voting changes that were added to the state’s budget. And some of those measures were removed. But a few passed, including one that reduces the number of voting machines county boards of election must purchase
The Republican majority also passed laws that allows state agencies to provide information to help maintain the voter registration database, authorizes electronic poll books and one that changes the rules for what minor parties must do to be recognized on the ballot.
Minor party candidates stood alongside many Democrats, such as Rep. Kathleen Clyde of Kent, in opposing this bill that they had nicknamed:
“The John Kasich re-election protection act,” they called it.
The sponsor of that legislation, Republican Sen. Bill Seitz, denied charges that the changes make it more difficult for minor parties to put their candidates on the ballot. And he insisted there was a good reason the Legislature passed it before the end of 2013.
“If you goof around with this too long, and you put something in effect and it doesn’t go into effect until March or April, they will trundle off to court and say you didn’t give us enough time.”
Looking ahead at closed primaries and other changes
So the Republican lawmakers passed the plan quickly.
It wasn’t long before Libertarians sued over it. And a Libertarian is considering a run against Republican Gov. Kasich this fall. One of the state’s tea party activists is considering a Republican primary challenge of Kasich, as well.
Democrats and others who don’t like some of the election law changes say they want to challenge them but, unlike in 2012 when lawmakers passed sweeping election laws that could be easily challenged, these new changes are being passed in piecemeal.
Catherine Turcer with Ohio Citizen Action says it’s a deliberate strategy. “In this case, it’s a little nibble here, a little nibble there and at the end of the day, it could make it more difficult, not easier for voters.”
So as 2014 starts, watch for debate over bills that have been introduced but not passed. Bill that would close Ohio’s primaries, do away with weekend voting the weekend before the election and require photo identification are on ripe for consideration -- and controversy.