Cleveland Plain Dealer: Ohio Voters Bill of Rights amendment won’t pass as written. It needs to be revised

Progressive Ohioans hoping to bolster voters’ rights by a ballot issue that would amend the Ohio Constitution are awaiting the outcome of a second bid for paperwork approval by Ohio’s Republican attorney general, David Yost.

Yost, who rejected backers’ initial summary of their “Ohio Voters Bill of Rights” amendment, now has until this Thursday to decide if the new petition language is an accurate summary of the proposal. Getting Yost’s approval of the language is the first of a multistep process for qualifying the issue for the Nov. 5 ballot — including collecting the valid signatures of 413,487 Ohio registered voters by July 3.

But there’s a greater impediment to this ballot proposal than Yost’s review or the needed petition signatures: The proposal itself way overreaches, virtually guaranteeing defeat and making the whole exercise one in futility.

Backers need to trim their sails and limit their amendment to the most clearly egregious aspects of Ohio’s current voting law — the ones that weight the scales against voters. They need to target the low-hanging fruit, if you will, of needed voting reforms. Without that, the amendment is a grab-bag of stretch wishes, not a practical list.

Backers of the voting-rights measure clearly want to get it on the ballot in a high-turnout presidential election year like this one, to help with passage.

But what about the likely negative impact of an overreaching voting-rights constitutional amendment on the same ballot as the highly consequential “Citizens not Politicians” Ohio redistricting amendment? Petitions for the redistricting measure, backed by Republican Maureen O’Connor, the former Ohio Supreme Court chief justice, are already circulating for signatures.

In Ohio’s partisan political landscape, surely opponents of both these measures will try to link them in the voters’ minds. If one of the proposed amendments is a weak link with provisions going well beyond what most Ohioans could be expected to support, both reform measures could be in jeopardy.

Groups backing the Voters Bill of Rights include the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, the Ohio Chapter of the NAACP, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and the Ohio Unity Coalition.

According to’s Andrew J. Tobias, key parts of their proposed constitutional amendment would: automatically register all otherwise eligible Ohioans to vote; let Ohioans register to vote and then vote on the same day (Election Day voter registration); let counties expand early voting hours and offer multiple sites for early in-person voting and ballot drop boxes; and repeal Ohio’s newly toughened photo ID requirement for in-person voting, instead letting voters swear to their identity in a signed affidavit.

The clear overreaches include Election Day voter registration, which was required in a 1977 law that Ohio voters voted to overturn within six months via a constitutional amendment. County election boards also broadly oppose the idea today on administrative grounds.

The other clear overreach in the amendment seeks to eliminate the voter photo ID requirement that took effect last year under the prior year’s elections reform law, House Bill 458. Yes, the HB 458 requirement was poorly thought through, neglecting to add Ohio’s veterans photo ID cards to the list of allowed identification, and failing to adequately inform voters of alternatives or to ensure that all categories of voters, including older Ohioans and college students, would have adequate access to alternatives, including a free state photo ID card.

But those flaws can be fixed via legislation, education and outreach. Voters, who mostly use photo IDs anyway, are unlikely to see the requirement’s prohibition in a constitutional amendment as a positive.

Better to concentrate the Voters Bill of Rights on issues voters clearly favor because they make it easier to vote, such as multiple secure ballot drop boxes, to make it less challenging to drop off absentee ballots, and more early-voting locations and opportunities before an election. These are options voters in large metropolitan counties, in particular, urgently need.

It’s unclear at this stage whether backers of the Voters Bill of Rights could or would withdraw their pending request to Yost to amend it to make it more realistic and achievable. But it’s certainly not too late for them to change course to save this effort, even if it means deferring to next year’s November election.

And saving the Voters Bill of Rights is just what’s at issue. No part of this Bill of Rights will ever be adopted if it contains poison pills almost guaranteed to prompt the majority of Ohio voters to reject it.