State Rep. Alicia Reece and other activists are mobilizing a campaign to get a "Voter Bill of Rights" on the Ohio ballot this November.
If approved by voters, the constitutional amendment would preserve the 35-day early voting period, expand early voting hours, allow voters to cast a provisional ballot anywhere in a given county, advance online voter registration and effectively prevent legislators from passing stricter voter ID laws in the future.
But before it ends up on the ballot, supporters will need to gather 1,000 petition signatures to get the initiative in front of the attorney general and collect 385,247 total signatures by July 2 to file the petition to the secretary of state.
The Democrat-backed amendment is in direct response to attempts by Republicans, including Secretary of State Jon Husted and Gov. John Kasich, to shorten Ohio's early voting period and otherwise restrict access to the ballot.
A bill currently working through the Ohio legislature would trim the early voting period from 35 to 29 days and effectively end the "Golden Week" in which voters can register to vote
and file a ballot on the same day. It's expected Kasich and Republican legislators will approve the bill.
Republicans say the limits are supposed to prevent voter fraud and establish uniform voting standards across the state. Otherwise, some counties might establish longer early voting hours than others.
But some Republicans acknowledge that restrictions on early voting could suppress constituents that typically elect Democrats, obviously to Republicans' advantage.
"I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine," wrote Doug Preisse, close adviser to Kasich, in a 2012 email to The Columbus Dispatch.
The constitutional amendment could also help address concerns raised last year when the U.S. Supreme Court repealed parts of the Voting Rights Act that allowed the federal government to better regulate state-level restrictions on voting.
In response to some of the concerns, Democratic candidates plan to hold a voting rights forum in Cincinnati on Martin Luther King Jr. Day next Monday. Attorney general candidate David Pepper, secretary of state candidate Nina Turner and state auditor candidate John Carney are scheduled to attend.
The Voter's Bill of Rights:
A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked a controversial law that limits minor political parties’ access to the statewide ballot and ruled that the state must allow minor parties to participate in primary and general elections in 2014.
The law required minor parties to gather about 28,166 voter signatures by July to regain official recognition at the state level — a threshold that critics called unrealistic and burdensome for minor political parties — and disallowed minor parties from holding primary elections in 2014.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson concluded the requirements hurt minor parties that already filed for election before Kasich signed the law in November. He argued the law also unfairly prevented minor parties from reaping the political benefits of a primary election.
“The Ohio Legislature moved the proverbial goalpost in the midst of the game,” wrote Watson in a 28-page opinion. “Stripping plaintiffs of the opportunity to participate in the 2014 primary in these circumstances would be patently unfair.”
But in filing a temporary injunction, Watson acknowledged the law’s requirements could still stand for 2015 and beyond after the court hands down its final ruling at a later date. Watson merely agreed with minor parties that the law places too many retroactive limits in time for the 2014 election.
For now, the ruling comes as a major victory for the Libertarian Party of Ohio, which filed a legal complaint against the law after Gov. John Kasich and his fellow Republicans in the state legislature, including State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, approved it.
Ohio Democrats and Libertarians took to calling the law the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act.” They argued the law defends Kasich from minor-party challengers dissatisfied with his record as governor, particularly his support for the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion.
Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, also backed the law. He is cited as the defendant in Watson’s opinion.
CityBeat could not immediately reach Husted’s office for comment.
Democrats quickly took advantage of Watson’s ruling to prop up Nina Turner, the Democratic candidate for secretary of state.
“Today, a federal court declared that Jon Husted’s attempt
to put his political party over the rights of Ohio voters to have
choices violated the constitutional rights of Ohioans. This is not the
first time, either. This November, Ohioans can elect Nina Turner to
bring needed change to the Ohio secretary of state’s office,” said Brian
Hester, spokesperson for Ohio Democrats, in a statement.
Husted and Turner will likely face off in the November ballot. Watson’s ruling could make it easier for a minor-party candidate to enter the race as well.
Mayor-elect John Cranley laid out his plans and priorities for his first term at his first press conference yesterday. Cranley says two of his top priorities are undoing the $133 million streetcar project and parking plan, which would lease the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. He also spoke on some of his more positive ideas, including the interchange project at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive, 3CDC-style public-private partnerships to revitalize neighborhoods and development of the Wasson Way bike trail, old Swifton Commons and Westwood Square.
It remains unclear how much it would cost to actually cancel the streetcar project. As of September’s monthly progress report, $94 million is tied to contractual obligations, $23 million is already spent and nearly $45 million in federal grants is still attached to the project. And if contractors, subcontractors and taxpayers sue the city to complete the project, it could impose litigation costs on the operating budget instead of the capital budget currently financing construction. Supporters of the streetcar also say cancellation could tarnish relationships with the federal government and contractors, which have a stake in the project’s completion. At his press conference yesterday, Cranley said he’d weigh the costs and benefits of cancellation and would continue the project if he deems it cheaper.
Meanwhile, Cranley might travel to Washington, D.C., to discuss reprogramming nearly $45 million in federal grants from the streetcar project to the I-71/MLK interchange project. In a June 19 letter, the U.S. Department of Transportation claimed it would take back nearly $41 million of the grant money if the streetcar project were canceled. City officials say they’ve already spent $2 million from the grants on the streetcar project, and, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding, that would need to be repaid through the operating budget if the project were terminated.Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature passed a bill that imposes new restrictions on minor political parties trying to get on the state ballot. The requirements force minor parties to meet higher petition signature and voting thresholds to get and remain on the ballot. Ohio Libertarians say they plan to sue to block the changes from becoming law in 90 days. Democrats and minor parties say the changes are meant to protect Kasich’s chances of re-election in 2014; they argue that, without the new requirements, tea party challengers upset with Kasich over his support for the federally funded Medicaid expansion could take away enough votes and spoil the election in favor of a Democrat. CityBeat covered the Senate version of the bill in further detail here.
Hamilton County commissioners yesterday unanimously approved the first budget in six years that didn’t require major cuts or revenue increases to achieve balance, but the budget also had very little in terms of new policies. Commissioners also approved a separate plan from the Port Authority, a city- and county-funded development agency, to expand its borders; the Port now needs to work out agreements with other jurisdictions before the expansion becomes official.
Janitors in Cincinnati are striking against New York City-based ABM in a push for wage hikes and health benefits. In supporting the efforts, Councilman Chris Seelbach says the strike and media attention surrounding it should hopefully put pressure on Cincinnati’s Fortune 500 companies that hire ABM to clean their buildings.
Commentary: “Republicans Continue Denying Social Progress.”
After only 28.8 percent of registered Cincinnati voters participated in the mayoral and City Council elections, The Cincinnati Enquirer asked those who didn’t show up to vote to explain themselves. The answers ranged from total apathy toward the streetcar project to disdain and distrust for the city’s government and political system.
Voters on Tuesday approved more than half of Ohio school levies.
The University of Cincinnati yesterday signed an agreement that will increase collaboration with NASA.
Blockbuster is closing down its remaining company-owned stores in the United States.
Biking in traffic can have some complicated results as bikers breathe in traffic exhaust.
Well, folks, election season is over for another year, and we got precious few surprises last night. The GOP ran up the score in every statewide election, took control of the U.S. Senate by picking up between seven to nine seats and scooped up even more seats in the House than they had before. Rep. John Boehner picked up an easy victory and looks to spend another term as house speaker and Sen. Mitch McConnell, who at one point looked to have a tougher fight, easily won against Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Now he could become Senate majority leader.
The statewide results are demoralizing for Democrats. Gov. Kasich won over Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald by a huge 32 point margin in the governor’s race. Attorney General Mike DeWine won an easy victory over Democrat David Pepper, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted handily beat Democratic State Senator Nina Turner, and even Republican Treasurer Josh Mandel beat opponent State Rep. Connie Pillich by nearly 15 points, despite being the most vulnerable of Republican incumbents in the election. That means four more years of a governor who has actively worked to curtail women's access to abortion services, an attorney general who has fought to preserve Ohio's more-than-likely unconstitutional gay marriage ban and a secretary of state who has worked to curtail early voting in the state.
In what is an almost too-neat metaphor for the state of Ohio's Democratic Party, now-former Ohio Democratic Party Chair Chris Redfern resigned as the party’s statewide leader last night after the embarrassing showing. He even lost his own seat in the Ohio House of Representatives to a Republican challenger, Steve Kraus, who is, get this, a suspect in a burglary, though no charges have been filed yet. One thing is for sure — Redfern got his seat burgled. Yeah, I just went there with that terrible joke.
The biggest news on the local level is that Issue 8, the icon tax, passed with 63 percent of the vote. That means a quarter-cent county sales tax increase will fund renovations to the city’s historic Union Terminal building. But interest in the icon tax fight didn’t extend to kicking County Commissioner Chris Monzel out of office. Many expressed anger at Monzel for slicing Music Hall out of the tax deal over the summer, but 58 percent of voters weren’t angry enough to choose Democrat Chris Feeney or write-in candidate Jim Tarbell over the Republican incumbent.
Also noteworthy is Democrat Cecil Thomas’ easy win over Republican Cincinnati City Councilman Charlie Winburn for Ohio’s 9th District state Senate seat. That means Winburn will be hanging around Council for a while longer and continuing to chair the powerful budget committee, where he’s been a key ally to Mayor John Cranley.
On a national level, the election is a part backlash against President Obama mixed with a bit of an affirmation of the GOP political strategy led by McConnell, which basically boils down to saying “no” a lot. They’ve been able to fight President Obama and Democrats as a whole to a standstill on a number of thorny, hard-to-tackle issues including health care, a minimum wage increase, unemployment benefits and immigration over the past few years while pinning the blame on the other team. But now that they have both sides of Congress, as even some in the party concede, they’ll have to try something new — actually governing by enacting policy instead of just rejecting it.
One other interesting national wrinkle in this midterm: progressive policies won the day in a number of states, while a couple deeply conservative statewide anti-abortion ballot initiatives in Colorado and North Dakota failed. Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota all passed minimum wage increases and Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. passed initiatives decriminalizing possession of various amounts of marijuana.
Why are you reading this? You should be voting right now. Like this guy.
If you've already gone, though, check him out. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell cast his vote a bit earlier today in Louisville, a spirited voter behind him got a perfectly-timed photo bomb, shedding the secrecy of the voting booth for the fame of the internet. I guess we can count on at least one vote for Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
The image, captured by Getty's Aaron P. Bernstein, has gone viral, and the word "thumbs" is now trending on Twitter in Louisville because that's democracy.
McConnell is fighting the campaign of his career against Grimes, who is Kentucky's secretary of state. She's fallen behind in recent days after pulling nearly even with McConnell for a time last month, but Democrats are hoping she'll pull off an upset as they struggle to maintain control of the Senate.
Here's City Councilman Chris Seelbach tweeting the photo and former Council candidate Mike Moroski loling: