By Jim Siegel The Columbus Dispatch • Wednesday February 12, 2014 5:59 AM
As Democrats and Republicans ripped each other for an unwillingness to negotiate, a bill to reduce Ohio’s in-person early voting by one week took another step toward law yesterday.
In another display of why election bills are among the most highly charged issues in the Statehouse, a contentious House committee featured a highly unusual move by the chairman to display a poster titled, “Where are the Democrats on needed election reforms?” just before a vote was taken.
Rep. Ron Gerberry, D-Austintown, in his 26th year as a lawmaker, said he had never seen that before.
“An open process? Bull,” he said later. “A bipartisan process? What a joke.”
On party-line votes, a House committee approved a bill reducing in-person early voting from 35 days to 29 days before Election Day, and a bill that would block Franklin County and others from mailing unsolicited absentee-ballot applications, leaving it instead to the secretary of state’s office so long as lawmakers approve the funding.
Full House votes are likely next week. The Senate already has approved the bills.
Eliminating a week of early voting would do away with the “golden week,” where people can register and vote on the same day. The bill does not establish which hours or days county board offices must be open — leaving that to a future directive by Secretary of State Jon Husted.
Dana Walch, deputy director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, said same-day registration can cause problems if the registration cannot be verified before Election Day.
Plus, “that’s an extra week we have got to put staff out there,” he said. “Research in Franklin County shows that very few people use that first week.”
Democrats and some voting-rights advocates have argued there is no good reason to eliminate a week of early voting. They also worry about a potential lack of voting on weekends — and some Republicans appeared OK with the idea of trimming it back.
Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, talked about a voter who thinks it’s very important to cast a ballot, “but I’m only going to do it if someone will drive me there after church on Sunday.”
“Really? Is that the person we need to cater to when we’re making public policy about elections?”
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