Youngstown Vindicator: AG Yost rejects ballot title for voting rights groups

Voting rights groups have their hands full with state Attorney General Dave Yost.

In January, Yost issued his second rejection of petition language a voting rights coalition has submitted for a proposed constitutional amendment. Yost claimed the amendment’s title — “Ohio Voters Bill of Rights” — was “highly misleading and misrepresentative” of the measure’s contents.

That argument might have flown with little notice were it not for one crucial detail. Yost acknowledges his office previously certified identical language for the Nursing Facility Patients’ Bill of Rights in 2021 and another Ohio Voters Bill of Rights in 2014.

This time around, though, the proposed amendment asks for enshrining the right for all Ohioans to vote safely and securely in the state constitution. It includes automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration and expanded early voting options and locations.

“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.”

It’s hard to tell whether that is a shot at previous attorney generals (Gov. Mike DeWine was state attorney general from 2011 to 2019), an admission of his own office’s failures or a knock on the intellectual abilities of voters.

Yost also wrote in a letter that “examples of past practice from this Office may be relevant,” just not this time, it seems.

One can understand there are reasons this particular proposed amendment is an irritant to Yost. But if the best he’s got is that similar titles used to be OK, but aren’t now, he might want to reconsider his evaluation process for potential ballot measures.

For its part, the coalition of voting rights groups says it believes its efforts included “dutiful compliance with (Yost’s) previous objections.”

No matter whether one agrees with the intent of a proposed amendment, it seems obvious that advocacy groups have a right to expect consistency in the way such ideas are evaluated by the state attorney general’s office.

If nothing else, that office has given groups proposing amendments to the state constitution a road map of mistakes to avoid in recent years. Now the question is, will the office follow it?