COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Ohio’s Republican governor signed legislation Tuesday to get rid of a contentious new election law that Democrats and others have been trying to get voters in the presidential battleground state to overturn.
The law would shrink early voting opportunities, among a host of other election changes. It’s been on hold from taking effect since September. That’s when Democrats, President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and other opponents gathered more than 300,000 signatures from Ohioans to ask voters on fall ballots whether they wanted to repeal it.
The state’s top elections official has said with the law’s repeal, there’s no need to place a question before voters.
Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, has said passage by the GOP-dominated state Legislature means Ohio’s election law is no longer in limbo.
But people on both sides of the issue say there’s no precedent for a legislative repeal of a bill that also is the subject of a referendum, so it’s unclear how a court might rule if a legal challenge is filed.
Jennifer Brunner, a former Democratic secretary of state and a leader in the Fair Elections Ohio campaign that brought the referendum, said Tuesday that the action taken by Gov. John Kasich and Legislature doesn’t force the removal of the question from November ballots.
“Since this issue is a case of first impression for any court, we do not see the statement of the Secretary of State to be determinative on this issue,” Brunner said in an email. “The issue remains on the ballot.”
Kasich signed the repeal measure privately. It cleared the Legislature last week
The bill’s Republican sponsor says enactment of the repeal bill would have same effect as voters opting to toss out the law on Nov. 6.
The repeal also reaffirms a technical change made last year in a separate bill, however, that resulted in early voting ending on the weekend before the election.
Democrats and others want those three, in-person voting days before Election Day restored. Otherwise, they argue, it’s not a true repeal.
Before the overhaul and subsequent technical change, local boards of election had the discretion to set their own early, in-person voting hours on the days before Election Day. And in-person voting on the weekend varied among the state’s 88 counties.
Greg Moore, campaign director of Fair Elections Ohio, said Tuesday that the group was looking at its legal options, and whether they want to continue to pursue legislation that would restore the final three days.
“We don’t want to open up a series of debates about what the state’s election laws should be,” Moore said.
Voter advocates have urged state lawmakers not to make any changes to Ohio’s election law before the Nov. 6 presidential election, including a repeal.
Carrie Davis, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said adjusting rules in the middle of an election year makes it harder for voters know the rules.
Plus, Davis added, “This exact scenario hasn’t happened before. … And what happens in terms of whether that (the referendum) stays on the ballot or not, no one knows. It’s an open question.”
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