Ohio attorney general rejects voting-rights coalition’s ballot petition for a 2nd time

Jan 25, 2024, 4:24 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A coalition of voting-rights groups is vowing to fight on after Ohio Republican Attorney General Dave Yost issued his second rejection Thursday of petition language it has submitted for a proposed constitutional amendment.

Yost found the amendment’s title — “Ohio Voters Bill of Rights” — was “highly misleading and misrepresentative” of the measure’s contents, even as he acknowledged that his office had previously certified identical language. It certified a Nursing Facility Patients’ Bill of Rights in 2021 and another Ohio Voters Bill of Rights in 2014.

The Ohio Voters Bill of Rights calls for enshrining the right for all Ohioans to vote safely and securely in the state constitution. The proposed amendment includes automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration and expanded early voting options and locations.

The push for the amendment follows Ohio’s enactment last year of sweeping new election restrictions, including a strict photo ID requirement and shortened windows after Election Day for returning and curing ballots.

“In the past, this Office has not always rigorously evaluated whether the title fairly or truthfully summarized a given proposed amendment,” Yost wrote the coalition’s attorney. “But recent authority from the Ohio Supreme Court has confirmed that the title for a ballot initiative is material to voters.”

That authority emerged from a legal dispute last year over the title that appeared on petitions for a local drag ban, according to Yost. His tougher stance also follows Republican legislators’ failed efforts last summer to making amending Ohio’s constitution more difficult.

Members of the voting rights coalition — which includes the NAACP’s Ohio chapter, the Ohio Unity Coalition, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative — said in a statement that they were dismayed by Yost’s decision. They said he had rejected their revised language “despite our dutiful compliance with his previous objections.”

“Voting is our most fundamental American right that each and every one of us wants and deserves to exercise,” the group said. “The Attorney General has shown a repeated lack of support for this popular amendment that will guarantee an equal path to the ballot box for all Ohioans.”

In his letter, Yost said, “Indeed, in our time of heightened polarization and partisanship, whether the title of a proposed amendment fairly or truthfully summarizes the proposal takes on even greater importance to voters asked to sign a petition. Thus, while examples of past practice from this Office may be relevant … they cannot be dispositive because they did not undertake to determine whether the title itself is a ‘fair and truthful statement.’”

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Ohio attorney general rejects voting-rights coalition’s ballot petition for a 2nd time