Board splits Ohio ballot proposal on voting into 4 issues

March 2, 2020 GMT

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A state panel voted Monday to split a ballot measure aimed at updating Ohio’s voting laws into four separate issues, increasing the effort and expense needed to get it before voters and sparking a possible legal challenge.

Backers disappointed by the state Ballot Board’s 3-2 vote said they were weighing their options.

“Today the ballot board chose politics over people and demonstrated why it is necessary for us to go directly to the voters to approve of common sense updates to Ohio’s laws to make voting more secure, fair and accessible,” Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections campaign manager, Toni Webb, said in an emailed statement. “It’s incredibly unfortunate and unsettling that politics may be getting in the way of modernizing Ohio’s elections to ensure that each person’s vote is sacred and counted.”

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the state elections chief who chairs the board, said his analysis indicated the issue contained four different points of law.

The proposal calls for automatically registering Ohioans to vote when they conduct business at state Bureau of Motor Vehicle offices. It would also allow eligible Ohioans to register and cast a ballot on the same day during early voting and on Election Day. Further, it would guarantee military service members and overseas citizens receive their ballots in a timely fashion and that voters with disabilities get equal access to the ballot box. Finally, it included a post-election audit provision.

“This is something we hold sacred as Americans. It’s also a very big subject matter in law,” LaRose said, in defending his recommendation.

But board member Pavan Parikh, who voted against splitting the measure up, noted that a 2017 ballot issue creating Marsy’s Law contained numerous provisions, varied but all related to victims’ rights. State Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson, a Toledo Democrat, said at least three of the sections broken out by LaRose all dealt with an individual voter.

She said precedent from the Ohio Supreme Court requires the Ballot Board to liberally interpret the question of whether a ballot issue is a single subject or multiple subjects.

The board’s vote clears backers of the measure to begin the statewide signature-gathering process. The coalition of supporters must now gather the required roughly 430,000 signatures for each of the four separate ballot questions, rather than just one. Their goal is to place the issue on the November ballot.