Capital News: Can't we all just get along and properly reform elections?

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published:

Columbus -- It wouldn't be an election season in Ohio without a series of legal challenges to related state laws and policies.

In recent months, there were challenges over who could collect signatures on petitions for ballot issues and whether minor parties could have their candidates' names on the May ballot.

Opponents of law changes OK'd by Statehouse Republicans got an early jump on November last week when they filed suit in federal court to overturn a new state law and a directive from the secretary of state that shortened Ohio's early voting period.

The latest legal challenge focuses on two issues.

First is Senate Bill 238, which eliminated the first week of early voting, thus ending the "golden week" period when people could register and cast ballots on the same day. The fact that few people actually did the latter is beside the point.

Second is Secretary of State Jon Husted's early voting hours directive, which didn't include Sunday or evening hours for early in-person voting in the weeks before the November general election. While supported by bipartisan election officials, the setup excludes the final few days before Election Day, much to the chagrin of Democrats who sued on that issue a couple of years ago.

The ACLU, NAACP, League of Women Voters and other Ohio groups have asked a federal court to overturn SB 238 and allow voting during golden week. And they want the court to toss Husted's early voting hours, enabling county boards to determine when eligible residents would be allowed to cast ballots in advance of Election Day.

Adding to the legal picture is a motion for summary judgment filed by the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party to force the state to offer early voting on the final three days before the November election.

If you're feeling like you've heard all of this before, it's because you have. These and other election law issues and policy decisions have been the focus of legislative and public debate for years.

And for years, Republicans and Democrats have failed to come together to negotiate in good faith and move an election reform package that's agreeable to both sides of the political aisle.

Instead, the electorate has been treated to partisan packages inked behind closed doors and offered by disingenuous policy-makers feigning surprise that anyone would be upset by the results. In place of well-vetted legislation, voters are left scratching their heads over lawsuits and threatened ballot issues and heated rhetoric.

Don't blame one side of the political aisle or the other. They're all acting like preschoolers pushing and shoving their way to the drinking fountain with no regard for their neighbor.

Whatever happened to give and take?

Why can't the majority Republicans and minority Democrats do some old-fashioned haggling and act in the best interest of all Ohioans?

People have sacrificed their lives to secure the right to vote. People have sacrificed their lives to ensure we have the freedom to participate in elections.

In light of those realities, the least lawmakers could do is work together to develop a realistic election reform package that would garner more than token support from all parties involved.

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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