CLEVELAND - Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is calling on state legislators to restore early in-person voting in the days leading up to the November 2012 election. These early voting days were eliminated in a wave of voter suppression legislation in 2011. Despite the possibility that state legislators may repeal HB 194, which included most of the suppression laws, they have resisted restoring early voting the weekend before Election Day.
“HB 194 may soon be repealed, but politicians are hanging on to the elimination of early voting,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link. “If legislators wish to start over on election reform, they must reset the clock and repeal all voter suppression laws, including the attacks on early in-person voting. It’s time for Ohio to stop playing partisan games with one of our most fundamental rights.”
HB 194 ignited instant controversy in Ohio and prompted a ballot referendum allowing voters to decide the fate of the bill. Facing mounting pressure from the public, legislators eventually changed direction completely and began to advocate for the repeal of HB 194. However, this repeal would not restore early voting in the days leading up to the election.
The repeal, Senate Bill 295, is sponsored by state Senator Bill Coley (R-Middletown) and has passed the Ohio Senate. Immediately before it was to be voted on in the Ohio House, leaders at Fair Elections Ohio offered to withdraw the referendum if the General Assembly repealed HB 194 and restored early voting. Leaders in the House have expressed willingness to negotiate, but Sen. Coley has stated he does not want amendments to SB 295. Instead, he has advocated addressing it in additional election legislation to be considered before the November 2012 election.
“Ohioans have spoken loud and clear that they want election rules to go back to before this latest wave of voter suppression legislation,” said Link. “New election laws now would only serve to confuse voters and make the November election more difficult to administer. There is only one reasonable path for legislators—set the clock back to before these controversial laws were passed and allow voters to cast their ballots free from unnecessary and dangerous restrictions.”
The ACLU will discuss this and other voting issues in its written testimony to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) congressional field hearing today in Cleveland. The hearing has been called to examine the impact of HB 194. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) will join Durbin at the hearing.