Ohio Republicans move to curb early, absentee voting

February 20

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (Tony Dejak/Associated Press.)

Ohio voters will have shorter windows in which to cast early ballots under a proposed measure headed to Gov. John Kasich’s desk this week after the Republican-dominated legislature moved to cut almost a full week off the state’s early voting window.

The House on Wednesday passed a measure that would end what’s known as “golden week,” the six days of early voting during which a voter can both register to vote and cast an in-person absentee ballot at the same time.

Democrats and voting-rights groups opposed the measure, which passed the state House on a party-line vote. The Senate had passed an identical bill in November, so the proposal now heads to Kasich, who is likely to sign it.

Ohio voters will still have 29 days to cast ballots early, one of the longer windows among the 32 states and the District of Columbia that allow early voting. Nearly 1.8 million Ohio voters, almost a third of the 5.58 million who cast a ballot in 2012, registered their votes early.

The Ohio House also passed a measure on Wednesday that would limit the ability of local county boards of elections to encourage voters to sign up for absentee ballots. The bill, which also passed the Senate last year, would prohibit county election administrators from sending out unsolicited applications for absentee ballots.

Republicans argued that because counties have different standards for when they send out the applications, voters are being treated differently across state lines. The bill allows the secretary of state to send out unsolicited absentee ballot applications statewide, if the legislature makes specific appropriations.

The two new measures are the latest in a years-long battle over election law changes that began when Kasich won office in 2010. The next year, the Republican-controlled legislature pushed through House Bill 194, which curtailed early voting and implemented stricter voter identification rules. Democrats and voting-rights advocates gathered enough signatures to get a repeal referendum on the ballot, but amid popular protests Republicans passed a follow-up measure that rolled back many of HB 194′s most controversial provisions.

If Kasich signs both new bills, they would go into effect in time for the 2014 midterm elections.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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