The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

March 29, 2012

Ohio Senate votes to repeal election overhaul bill

COLUMBUS —  A bill repealing sweeping changes to Ohio’s 2011 elections law cleared the state Senate on Wednesday after a debate so fierce one Democrat urged stopping because lawmakers were “about to draw blood.”

With election-year politics flaring, Republicans and Democrats accused each other of playing political games with the battleground state’s voting rules at the expense of Ohio voters and the democratic process.

The original bill retooling the state’s election laws passed last summer. It’s been on hold since September, when opponents gathered enough signatures to qualify a repeal question for November’s ballot.

The legislation shrunk the early-voting period that was viewed as helping Democrats drive the turnout that helped President Barack Obama win the critical battleground state, and it made a host of other changes. It called for shortening the early voting window from 35 days before Election Day to 17 days.

Republicans who control the Senate said Wednesday they were giving Democrats and their allies what they want by erasing the law. They passed the bill along party lines and sent it to the GOP-led Ohio House.

House Speaker William Batchelder said he supports it, though he still has reservations about whether it’s legal to repeal a law when it’s awaiting referendum by voters.

State Sen. Bill Coley, the repeal’s Republican sponsor, said Wednesday’s proposal contained the language to which Ohio law would revert if the fall repeal were successful — “nothing more and nothing less.”

“That is what (House Bill) 194’s opponents want, and that is what we’re doing here today,” he said.

If passed, the repeal measure would leave in place the old rules governing Ohio elections. The bill also would reaffirm a separate change made last year that cuts off in-person early voting on the Friday evening before Election Day.

Democrats raged against Republicans’ claims, saying it was more than a repeal and reinstated elements to the state election law that were harmful to voters.

“It’s inappropriate, and you are losing the trust of the citizens across the state of Ohio with these antics,” railed state Sen. Mike Skindell, a Lakewood Democrat. “That’s all they are is antics trying to subvert the will of the people and trying to suppress votes.”

State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, challenged Skindell to point to any election law change in Wednesday’s bill that Democrats didn’t support. He said most were innocuous, bipartisan changes supported by professional election officials.

“We were not doing anything nefarious or subversive,” Seitz said. “We were listening to the quintessentially bipartisan group of all time, who said please stop the circus at close-of-business on Friday before the election.”

Democratic Sen. Eric Kearney, of Cincinnati, said Ohio voters have been treated to a host of boggling contradictions during recent elections. “Who understands this? Who gets this?”

Seitz accused Democrats of changing course from early statements favoring a legislative repeal of the law after Obama’s re-election campaign discovered an advantage in having it on this fall’s ballot alongside his name. He read from an Obama fundraising solicitation on the issue.

“Well, now we understand why they no longer want to repeal the law legislatively, why they don’t want to work with us anymore on replacement language,” Seitz said. “Because Obama for America told them don’t do it.”

State Sen. Nina Turner, a Cleveland Democrat, said, “I don’t need the President of the United States to tell me when and how to stand up for what is right.”

Republican state Sen. Shannon Jones likened the debate to William Shakepeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” since the bill and the fall ballot issue will have essentially the same effect.

Cleveland Democrat Shirley Smith rose in anger.

“When people make comments about ‘much to-do about nothing,’ I think we have gotten to the point where we’re about to draw blood. So I think we should allow this debate to end,” she said.

———

Associated Press writer Ann Sanner contributed to this report.

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