Campaign seeking Ohio voting-law expansion sues over state decision to split proposed ballot measure


Andrew J. Tobias - Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland (TNS)



COLUMBUS, Ohio — The campaign backing a proposed ballot issue expanding Ohio’s voter-access laws is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to overrule a state panel’s recent decision to break their proposal into four parts.

The ACLU-backed campaign, which calls itself Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections, filed the lawsuit on Thursday seeking to overturn the Ohio Ballot Board’s Monday decision to split the measure.

“Their action is inconsistent with this Court’s precedent for determining whether a proposed constitutional amendment constitutes a single amendment,” the lawsuit reads. “In the absence of relief from this Court, the Ballot Board’s action will effectively deny Relators the ability to access the November 3, 2020 ballot with the full Proposed Amendment due to the insurmountable financial costs and logistical difficulty in simultaneously circulating four initiative petitions.”

At the same time, the ACLU-backed campaign also is hedging its bets by filing four sets of paperwork with state Attorney General Dave Yost’s office, the first step in the multi-step process to making the November ballot.

“We are moving forward with a two-pronged approach as we continue to work to ensure all Ohio’s elections are secure and that every eligible voter can cast a ballot,” Toni Webb, campaign manager for Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections, said in a statement.

In a statement, Maggie Sheehan, a spokeswoman for Republican Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, said: “The Secretary is confident in the board’s decision that the amendment included four different subjects, and believes it’s vitally important to allow voters to decide on very different issues that impact the law in several different ways.”

Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections had sought a single ballot issue, asking voters to amend the state constitution to automatically register eligible Ohioans to vote at the BMV, and to allow voters to register to vote and cast a ballot the same day during early voting, among other provisions.

Getting a single constitutional amendment on the ballot requires backers to eventually collect 442,958 signatures from 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties before July 1. The group submitted its initial round of paperwork on Jan. 22.

But the Ohio Ballot Board’s Republican members, including LaRose, ruled on Monday the measure was actually four separate issues, and split it into four parts.

If the decision stands, it’s a blow for the proposal’s chances of passing, since it creates three major problems for the campaign. First, it would need to collect four times as many signatures — around 1.7 million, although the same voter could sign all four petitions — to make the ballot.

Two, it would eat into the group’s time to gather signatures before the July deadline. And three, the campaign would have to convince voters to approve four items, which is inherently more complicated than focusing on just one.

The ballot board voted down party lines 3-2 to split the measure.

Republicans sided with an attorney representing the Ohio Republican Party who argued that the single issue was confusing, and packed with unrelated, noncontroversial items to convince voters to approve more controversial components.

But the board’s two Democrats voted against splitting the issue, siding with the campaign’s arguments that the measure was a single issue, united by the common issue of making it easier for Ohioans to vote.

The ACLU funded a similar measure in Michigan in 2018, which voters approved by a two-to-one margin. Like in Ohio, the issue drew opposition from the state Republican Party.

The Ohio campaign has backing from a bevy of progressive groups, including the Ohio Chapter of the NAACP, the Ohio Environmental Council and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio.

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Andrew J. Tobias

Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland (TNS)

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