Ohio GOP aims to change voting laws during lameduck session
By JULIE CARR SMYTH
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio's elections chief on Thursday championed a lameduck push to require a supermajority of voters in order to pass certain constitutional amendments, a move that came the same day further voter restrictions were added to a significant rewrite of Ohio's election laws.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose said requiring a 60% supermajority to amend Ohio's constitution would be “a win for good government" and assure a broad base of support to make changes to the state's founding document.
He also said that such a threshhold would assure bipartisan consensus and prevent special interest groups from buying their way in.
The same standard would not apply to constitutional amendments advanced by of the state's GOP-controlled state Legislature, where LaRose argues a supermajority vote of lawmakers is already required. Currently, Republicans hold more than 60% of votes in both chambers, percentages that will grow next session.
LaRose's move comes as organizations frustrated by Ohio's repeated passage of unconstitutional political maps and a near-total state abortion ban that's been blocked by the courts are considering advancing amendments of their own. Polls generally put public support for abortion rights at more than half of Americans, but less than 60%.
If all goes as planned, the resolution would be on the spring 2023 statewide ballot. It would require a simple majority to pass.
Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said there is “nothing good government” about LaRose's proposal, which she called extreme. She noted that the citizen's ballot initiative has been an option in Ohio for more than a century.
“We have an Ohio General Assembly that has an unnatural supermajority because of gerrymandering, that continue to act out of step from the people of Ohio, who don't want abortion bans, who don't want gerrymandered districts," she said. “This will take their power away from holding the Ohio General Assembly accountable when they pass laws that don't work for everyday Ohioans.”
LaRose noted that both Democratic- and Republican-led states already have a supermajority rule, including Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Nebraska, Mississippi, Wyoming and Florida.
Back in the Ohio House, Republican state Rep. Bill Seitz characterized a decision to trim the window after an election for mailed military and overseas ballots to arrive at election boards from 10 days to seven a response to post-2020 pressures the public has placed on vote counting.
Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, said the reduction was “in the interest of getting an accurate count without having to wait forever, like we're waiting on the United States House of Representatives." Though results of House races in some states, including California, continue to be tallied, election officials emphasize that the duration of the count is not a sign of irregularities.
The latest version of the Ohio bill also strikes sections that would have set up an online absentee ballot request system and allowed for automated voter registration. Seitz said, though he believes in the latter, the Ohio Senate had objections to it — and “it takes two to tango.”
He said separate legislation expected to add further restrictions to Ohio's voter ID law will be coming later from the Senate. It was unclear whether that bill would make IDs available for free, a proposition Seitz had been discussing.
Voting rights advocates continued to object to the bill overall, noting that the latest version removes two of the new voter conveniences — automated voter registration and an online absentee ballot request system — that they'd previously supported.
Chris Tavenor, of the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund, said eliminating in-person voting on the Monday before Election Day, limiting the location of drop boxes to county boards of elections and adding — rather than removing — restrictions to voting absentee “make it less likely that people participate in our democracy.”
Miller said her organization supports such elements of the bill as added funding for e-pollbooks.
“On balance, though, this bill would make elections more difficult and more expensive for election officials and voters alike," she testified.
Miller said shrinking the window for absentee ballots postmarked by the Monday before an election to arrive will not only impede voters, but place additional pressure on election workers and postal carriers at a busy time.
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