Proposed voting law changes are back to being 1 ballot issue

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A package of proposed election law changes aimed at making voting in Ohio easier was restored as a single ballot issue Thursday rather than being split up, ending nearly two months of legal delays.

The proposal brought by Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections calls for automatically registering interested Ohioans to vote when they conduct business at state Bureau of Motor Vehicle offices, allowing same-day voter registration and voting, and guaranteeing ballot access to military service members, overseas citizens and voters with disabilities. It also would require a post-election audit.

The Ohio Ballot Board returned to vote on the issue on orders from the Ohio Supreme Court, which ruled April 14 that the state board erred in splitting the package into four separate questions.

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, ballot board chairman, led the effort to split the package into four, citing a state rule that such a proposal must be about one subject. Backers called it a misinterpretation and said all the elements were related. Justices agreed with the Fair Elections group in a virtually unanimous ruling.

LaRose and Republican Senate President Larry Obhof both reversed their earlier votes in favor of splitting the issue, while expressing continued concern over putting such ballot issues before voters.

Both said that lumping an issue that might be less attractive to voters with one or more that are more attractive can result in bad public policy.

“It’s important that voters understand very clearly what they’re voting for and combining several issues together into one is concerning to me,” LaRose said during a meeting held by videoconference due to the coronavirus. “It’s not a good practice when the Legislature does it. It’s not a good practice when it’s done by an issues oriented group that wants to put something i front of the voters.”

Board member Pavan Parikh said the board voted contrary to existing case law initially and that the current debate had only strengthened precedent for combining issues with common themes.

Despite Thursday’s victory, the campaign’s future remains in question. During the nearly two months since the ballot board’s March 2 vote, the coronavirus has limited activity in the state. Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections joined a lawsuit by another ballot campaign seeking accommodations in Ohio’s signature-gathering requirements to make the ballot, arguing their efforts have been impeded by the stay-home order, mass gathering restrictions and social distancing rules.

That case is yet to be decided.