CLEVELAND - Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio announced that it would support the referendum on Ohio House Bill 194, which drastically limits the time frame for early and mail in voting, makes it optional for poll workers to assist voters, and prevents county boards of elections from widely promoting absentee ballots to registered voters. Groups such as the League of Women Voters Ohio, state legislators, labor unions, and other voting rights advocates have begun to collect 231,000 signatures to place the bill on the November 2012 ballot.

“Laws should expand the people’s access to the ballot box, not restrict it,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link. “House Bill 194 does nothing to protect against voter fraud, makes it more difficult for voters to cast their ballots early, and may increase problems on Election Day. With no clear benefit, voters should repeal this legislation.”

The bill was passed in June 2011 after the ACLU and various voter advocates testified that the changes could bring back long lines and confusion that marred the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. Election experts have credited the marked improvement in state elections to the expansion of absentee voting over the last five years. In 2006, the General Assembly passed legislation that allowed anyone to cast an absentee ballot without an approved reason and to allow in-person early voting.

Advocates for the referendum have established Fair Elections Ohio, which is coordinating petition drives to obtain signatures. If the group successfully collects 231,000 signatures, the bill will not go into effect for the November 2011 election or the primary and general 2012 elections.

“Simply put, this bill would move Ohio in the wrong direction,” added Link. “The state has made tremendous strides in recent years to reduce confusion at the polls, and much of it would be negated if this law were allowed to stand. While the legislature and governor approved this measure, the people should have the last word.”