CityBeat Blogs - Voting http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-215.html <![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Mayor John Cranley is trying to find a compromise over whether early voting will move out of downtown after the 2016 general election, as some Republicans in the county government have suggested. Cranley called for a meeting with Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman and Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke, Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou, Cincinnati NAACP President Ishton Morton and Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel. The meeting will aim to “discuss alternatives the City of Cincinnati can offer to accommodate early voting downtown after the 2016 elections. (Cranley) believes that such a discussion is consistent with the recommendation of the secretary of state that there be an effort to find a nonpartisan solution to the existing disagreement.”

With a $12 million price tag in mind, Cranley remains worried Cincinnati is paying too much for a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. But the project is truly one of a kind, claims The Business Courier: The tower would boast nearly twice the number of luxury apartments of any other project underway in Over-the-Rhine or downtown. And it would replace a decrepit garage and establish the first full-scale grocery store downtown in decades.

A study found Ohio teens’ painkiller abuse dropped by 40 percent between 2011 and 2013. State officials quickly took credit for the drop, claiming their drug prevention strategies are working. But because the Ohio Youth Risk Behavior Survey only has two sets of data on painkillers to work with — one in 2011 and another in 2013 — it’s possible the current drop is more statistical noise than a genuine downturn, so the 2015 and 2017 studies will be under extra scrutiny to verify the trend.

Similarly, fewer Ohio teens say they’re drinking and smoking. But 46 percent say they text while driving.

Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.9 percent in January, down from 7.3 percent the year before. The numbers reflect both rising employment and dropping unemployment in the previous year.

To prove his conservative bona fides, Ky. Sen. Mitch McConnell touted a rifle when he walked on stage of the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The other Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, will headline a Hamilton County Republican Party dinner.

Researchers studied a woman who claims she can will herself out of her body.

Personal note: This is my last “Morning News and Stuff” and blog for CityBeat. After today, I will be leaving to Washington, D.C., for a new journalistic venture started by bloggers and reporters from The Washington Post and Slate. (CityBeat Editor Danny Cross wrote a lot of nice things about the move here, and my last commentary touched on it here.) Thank you to everyone who read my blogs during my nearly two years at CityBeat, and I hope I helped you understand the city’s complicated, exciting political and economic climate a little better, even if you sometimes disagreed with what I wrote.

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Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted on Friday ruled that the Hamilton County Board of Elections can move to a former hospital site at Mount Airy after the 2016 election, but whether early voting moves along with the Board of Elections needs to be resolved separately. The decision does little to resolve the dispute between local Democrats and Republicans about which location — downtown or Mount Airy — is better for early voters. Democrats argue downtown, as the central hub of local public transportation, best meets the need of most early voters. Republicans argue the Mount Airy facility is closer to the center of the whole county and provides free parking, which Republicans say should make up for the few bus routes that go to the neighborhood.

Gov. John Kasich on Friday signed two controversial election bills that reduce the time allotted for early voting by one week and restrict counties’ ability to send out unsolicited absentee voting applications. The reduction of early voting in particular raised claims of “voter suppression” from Democrats because the bill eliminates the Golden Week in which early voters can register to vote and actually vote on the same day. Republicans say the bills are necessary to establish uniform early voting hours and rules across the state. In general, both sides acknowledge Democrats benefit from more early voting access and Republicans benefit from less early voting access.

Income inequality rose in Ohio between 1979 and 2011, but Ohio fared better than most states, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute and the Economic Analysis and Research Network. Ohio’s top 1 percent make roughly 18.1 times the annual income as the bottom 99 percent. In comparison, the average nationwide rate is 24.4 and the rate in the two worst performing states — New York and Connecticut — is 40.

Contrary to faulty reports from Councilman Charlie Winburn and The Cincinnati Enquirer, the city extensively warned residents about its decision to decertify the flood levee around Lunken Airport. In fact, Winburn in 2010 actually voted in favor of an ordinance that supported the decertification. The decision means residents in the area need to purchase flood insurance.

Mayor John Cranley and other city officials plan to boost minority- and women-owned business contracts through aspirational inclusion goals set between the city and contractors. Since the city can’t force businesses to meet the goals, Cranley acknowledges the city could fail. But contractors who worked on the Horsehoe Casino said a similar policy was effective in boosting minority rates for that project.

Two people died in Walnut Hills today after a stabbing and police-involved shooting, according to Cincinnati Police.

Cincinnati plans to increase efforts to get more solar panels on city rooftops. A more specific announcement should come in the next few weeks. Just a couple weeks ago, the Solar Foundation ranked Ohio No. 8 in the nation for solar jobs.

Ohio gas prices continued rising this week.

Watch a robot 3-D print with metal here.

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City Council watered down Mayor John Cranley’s parking plan to just two proposals: upgrading parking meters and increased enforcement. Council and public opposition ultimately proved too much for increasing neighborhood rates and expanded evening hours at major hubs. The changes mean less revenue for the city but reduced parking costs for residents. Still, with the parking plan changing almost daily, it’s unclear whether the current iteration will be the final proposal that the Neighborhood Committee and City Council ultimately pass.

Compare: Cranley’s original parking plan versus the parking privatization plan.

Meanwhile, Xerox, the private operator that took over Cincinnati’s parking meters in the parking privatization plan, proposed its own version of a parking plan in which the company manages parking meters while City Council retains control over setting hours, rates and enforcement. Xerox says its plan will generate more revenue. But Cranley rejected Xerox’s plan weeks ago.

Commentary: “County Should Accept Responsible Bidder Law.”

Cranley yesterday announced he’s partnering with Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley to get a share of $1.3 billion in federal funds that would help attract manufacturing. The two cities will compete as one community for the federal Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership. The competition’s 12 winners will each receive part of the $1.3 billion pot. Even if Cincinnati and Dayton don’t win, Cranley said the competition will at least get them thinking about working together as a community for manufacturing jobs.

The Republican-controlled Ohio legislature yesterday approved controversial election bills that reduce the state’s early voting period by one week and restrict counties’ abilities to mail out unsolicited absentee ballot applications. Democrats say the measures are meant to suppress voters, but Republicans argue the changes are supposed to set uniform standards across the state. At least one top Ohio Republican previously admitted the measures were supposed to suppress voters, particularly “the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.” Gov. John Kasich is now the only person that stands between the bill becoming law.

The city plans to undertake a pothole-fixing blitz in March.

The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority will begin its 14-neighborhood rehabilitation plan in Evanston, where the agency will target about 100 properties.

With a “virtual online menu” and access to vocational education in the seventh grade, Gov. Kasich says he wants to get Ohio students planning their careers much earlier.

The Ohio House approved a plan that will give schools four more calamity days — more popularly known as “snow days” — for the current school year. The bill now heads to the Ohio Senate and Kasich.

U.S. Sen Sherrod Brown wants to close a loophole in Medicare that costs seniors thousands of dollars in unexpected medical bills.

Quinnipiac University’s most recent poll found Ohioans would choose Hillary Clinton over Kasich and other Republicans for president.

Whooping cough appears to be evolving in response to its vaccine.

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Mayor John Cranley says his parking plan intends to alleviate Cincinnati’s ongoing budget woes by increasing parking revenue, but the plan will need approval from a majority of City Council to become law. The plan wouldn’t increase parking meter rates downtown, but it would increase neighborhood rates by 25 cents to 75 cents an hour. The plan would also increase enforcement at parking meters, which could lead to more tickets, and extend enforcement hours to 9 p.m. around the University of Cincinnati, Short Vine in Corryville, Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But the plan would not give control of the city’s parking meter rates and hours to outside entities, like the parking privatization plan did. Cranley plans to send the proposal to the Neighborhood Committee, with a full council vote possible in two weeks.

An Ohio House committee yesterday cleared a pair of controversial election bills that would reduce the state’s early voting period by one week — effectively eliminating a “Golden Week” in which voters can register and vote at the same time — and restrict counties’ abilities to mail out absentee ballot applications. The bills wouldn’t go into effect until after the May 6 primary. Democrats say the bills are blatant attempts at voter suppression, but Republicans, some of whom acknowledge they politically benefit from reduced access to voting, say the reform is necessary to eliminate voting disparities between urban and rural counties. The bills still need approval from the Republican-controlled Ohio House and Republican Gov. John Kasich to become law.

A bill placing age requirements on electronic cigarettes yesterday passed an Ohio Senate committee. Critics of the bill argue it doesn’t go far enough because it puts e-cigarettes in a different category than tobacco, which exempts e-cigarettes from higher taxes and stricter regulations even though they contain addictive substances and potential health risks. Kasich and the rest of the legislature need to OK the proposal before it becomes law.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center reopened three school-based health clinics closed after Neighborhood Health Care’s abrupt shutdown.

A poll worker in Avondale allegedly voted twice, according to the Hamilton County Board of Elections.

The Ohio Department of Education plans to increase the number of weeks schools can administer state tests to alleviate time concerns brought on by excessive snow days.

Meanwhile, the Ohio House plans to vote on a bill that would let schools take on more snow days this year.

A Christian university located south of Columbus gets public dollars to teach “biblical truth,” an Akron Beacon Journal investigation found. And the school’s president and lobbyist just happen to sit on the Ohio Board of Education.

NBC correspondent Tom Brokaw revealed he has cancer.

RoboCop isn’t that far off from reality.

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Mayor John Cranley plans to address long-term unemployment in Cincinnati with several new initiatives, some of which could get support from the White House, he told CityBeat yesterday. According to Cranley, the idea is to end employer discrimination against the long-term unemployed or land the long-term unemployed into jobs to end the job-crippling gap in their resumes. Cranley’s push against long-term unemployment comes in preparation of his visit today to the White House, which is looking for different ways to tackle the sluggish economy without going through a gridlocked Congress.

Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted said it would be “logical” to keep an early voting location downtown even if the Hamilton County Board of Elections moves its offices to Mount Airy. Husted’s comments imply local Republicans are alone in their effort to move early voting to a new Mount Airy location, where only one bus line runs. Democrats oppose the move because it would limit voting access for people who rely on public transportation. But local Republicans claim free parking at the facility would outweigh the lack of bus access. As the secretary of state, Husted could break the board’s tie vote over the issue and make the final decision on where its offices and early voting end up.

Gov. John Kasich threatened to veto a “puny” oil and gas tax, casting doubts on the current proposal in the Ohio legislature. The debate has put Kasich and his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly at odds as the state undergoes a bit of an oil and gas boom because of fracking, a drilling technique that pumps millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground to unlock oil and gas reserves. Kasich has been pushing to reform and increase the severance tax for the state’s oil and gas producers. But Republican legislators have largely resisted Kasich’s call to action, instead pushing a proposal that increases the severance tax by much less than what the governor proposed two years ago. In both Kasich and legislators’ proposals, the raised revenue would be used for an income tax cut.

A Hamilton County judge should decide today whether a local abortion clinic can remain open while it fights a state-ordered shutdown.

This year’s Neighborhood Enhancement Program will target Walnut Hills and East Price Hill. The program aims to address a number of issues, including the number of calls to police, building code violations, vacant buildings, drug arrests, graffiti, junk cars, litter and weeds.

Cincinnati officials won an award for how the local budget is presented and communicated, even though it’s still not structurally balanced.

The Ohio Statehouse welcomes weddings and receptions except for gay couples, who can’t get the Ohio marriage certificate required to hold a ceremony at the location.

The Feb. 4 debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Creation Museum Founder Ken Ham over evolution and biblical creationism will stream live at The Cincinnati Enquirer. Evolution is taken as fact in the scientific world, but creationists deny its truth despite the clear, overwhelming evidence.

A school bus driver might have saved two children by yelling at them to get out of the way during a crash.

Scientists might have discovered a potential cure for peanut allergies.

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For some, Dennis McGuire’s 26-minute, seemingly painful execution raises constitutional and ethical questions about Ohio’s use of the death penalty. In particular, the convicted killer’s family and medical experts say the state’s use of a new cocktail of drugs presented problems even before McGuire was killed, with one Harvard professor of anesthesia warning the state prior to the execution that its dosage was too low for McGuire’s size and the drugs inadequate. Jonathan Groner, a professor of clinical surgery at Ohio State University, told CityBeat, “I wouldn’t want what he got to have my appendix out. … I would be concerned that I would feel something.”

Hamilton County commissioners yesterday accepted a Mount Airy facility offered to the county as a gift by Catholic Health Partners, with plans to use the former hospital as the campus for a new crime lab. The acceptance came despite previous warnings that the Mount Airy facility could not be taken in by the county if the Board of Elections didn’t also move its office and early voting to the Mount Airy location, where only one bus line runs, from its current downtown office. A party-line tie vote left the Board of Elections move in limbo, with a tie-breaking decision expected from the Republican secretary of state in the next few weeks. Democrats oppose the move because it would limit voting access for people who rely on public transportation, while Republicans argue free parking at the new facility would outweigh the loss of bus access.

Officials plan to break ground today on the Anna Louise Inn’s new location at Mount Auburn. The start of construction marks the beginning of the next chapter for the Inn afters its owner, Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB), lost a contentious legal battle against financial giant Western & Southern. CUB sought to keep the Inn at the location it has been at since 1909, while Western & Southern aimed to claim the property to invoke its full development vision on the Lytle Park neighborhood. After two years of litigation, both sides reached a settlement in which CUB agreed to move.

Commentary: Media Should End Reliance on “He Says, She Says.”

A local abortion clinic asked a Hamilton County judge to suspend a state order that would shut down the facility. The Sharonville clinic would close down by Feb. 4 if courts don’t step in.

With bipartisan support, the Ohio House cleared a bill that reduces the costs and speeds up the process of adoptions. But some Democrats worry the bill goes too far by shortening the period a putative father must register with the state if he wants to be able to consent to an adoption.

The tea party failed to put forward a Republican primary challenger to Gov. John Kasich.

Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune says he’s talking to former Toledo Mayor Jack Ford as a potential running mate in a Democratic primary challenge against gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald. With less than one week left, Portune needs to name a running mate and gather 1,000 valid petition signatures to actually run — a prospect that’s looking dimmer by the day.

A federal judge sentenced an Ohio man who threatened to kill President Barack Obama to 16 months in prison.

Cincinnati-based Kroger might test an online ordering system.

Gladys, the Cincinnati Zoo’s newest gorilla, celebrated her first birthday party with cake.

Scientists developed hair-growing cells from ordinary skin cells, potentially providing a new option for curing baldness.

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<![CDATA[County Accepts Mount Airy Facility for Crime Lab]]>

Hamilton County commissioners on Wednesday announced they will accept a Mount Airy facility offered to the county as a gift by Catholic Health Partners, opening the door to a new county crime lab at the location.

The acceptance comes despite lingering uncertainties about whether the Board of Elections will also move to the former hospital in Mount Airy. County commissioners previously warned the Board of Elections must move with the crime lab to provide the occupancy necessary to financially justify renovations at the 500,000-square-foot facility.

The decision also comes despite remaining questions about how exactly the cash-strapped county government will fund the move and the renovations it entails.

Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco and Sheriff Jim Neil both lobbied for the new crime lab. Citing expert opinions, they argue the current crime lab lacks space and needs to be modernized, which could put criminal evidence and trials at risk.

Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel called the gift a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” — a sentiment both other commissioners seemed to follow.

“This is a home run for law enforcement in Hamilton County,” Commissioner Greg Hartmann said.

Commissioners explained they will seek various opportunities to fill out remaining space in the facility.

Mayor John Cranley on Jan. 23 offered to move some city police services to the facility, but Hartmann told CityBeat the offer wouldn’t be enough to replace the Board of Elections.

“Without the Board of Elections coming with the crime lab, that’s not enough occupancy,” Hartmann said. “There would be some good potential co-location opportunities with the city (at the Mount Airy facility), but not enough to take up 400,000 square feet.”

But with Wednesday’s development, county commissioners appear ready to take up the Mount Airy facility and new county crime lab even if the Board of Elections doesn’t move.

On Monday, the Board of Elections split along party lines over whether the board should move its offices and early voting from downtown to Mount Airy, where only one bus line runs. Democrats say the move would reduce voting access for people who rely on public transportation to make it to the ballot box. Republicans argue the potential of free parking at the facility outweighs the lack of public transportation.

Of course, part of the issue is political: Democrats benefit from a downtown voting location that’s easily accessible to Democrat-leaning urban voters, and Republicans benefit from a location closer to Republican-leaning suburban voters.

With the board’s tie vote, the issue now goes to the secretary of state — Republican Jon Husted — to potentially decide. The secretary of state’s office says Husted will make a decision after he reviews documents from the Board of Elections explaining both sides of the tie vote, but spokesperson Matt McClellan says Husted would like to see the issue resolved locally before he is forced to intervene.

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Local early voting could move from downtown to Mount Airy, where only one bus line runs, following a split, party-line vote from the Hamilton County Board of Elections. Democrats oppose the move because they say it will make early voting less accessible to people who rely on public transportation to make it to the ballot box. Republicans support the move as part of a plan to consolidate some county services, particularly a new crime lab, at the Mount Airy facility. With the board split, Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, could step in to break the tie vote.

But Husted's spokesperson said the secretary of state might encourage the Board of Elections to "take another look" at the issue, and Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel says the county will not move the Board of Elections without a majority vote.

Gov. John Kasich called for a one-time increase in the number of school calamity days to cope with the unusually severe winter weather this year. Under state law, schools are normally allowed five calamity days before extra days off start chipping into summer break. The state legislature must approve legislation to enact the temporary increase.

Ohio officials found no substantial evidence that a public defender coached convicted killer Dennis McGuire to fake suffocation during his execution. Eye-witness accounts report McGuire visibly struggled, snorted and groaned as he took 26 minutes to die — the longest execution since Ohio restarted using the death penalty in 1999.

Despite what a local state senator says, there are a lot of differences between Ohio's Clean Energy Law and Stalinism.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Senate continues working on a proposal that would weaken Ohio's renewable energy and efficiency standards. But it's unclear if the new attempt will be any more successful than State Sen. Bill Seitz's failed, years-long crusade against the Clean Energy Law.

Local Democrats endorsed Christie Bryant for an open seat in the Ohio House, even though five interviewed for the position and could run in the Democratic primary. Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke previously told CityBeat local Democrats endorse prior to a primary in some special situations. In this case, the party wanted to guarantee a black candidate, and Bryant is the most qualified, according to Burke.

A new report found Ohio's prison population ticked down by nearly 2 percent since 2011, but the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) says it is now trending back up. To address the recent rise, ODRC Director Gary Mohr says legislators need to provide more opportunities for community-based drug treatment, mental health care and probation programs to help reduce prison re-entry rates.

More than 112,000 Ohio students dropped out of high schools between 2006 and 2010.

The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority will shape plans this year to remake some of Queensgate and Camp Washington into manufacturing, engineering and laboratory hubs with high-paying jobs.

Hamilton County might sell some of its six downtown buildings.

Former Mayor Mark Mallory took a job with the Pennsylvania-based Chester Group, which provides "energy, water and wastewater solutions to public and industrial clients across the United States and internationally," according to a press release.

Councilman Chris Seelbach's vegan chili won the Park+Vine cook-off.

Confirmed by science: Walking while texting or reading a text increases chances of injury.

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<![CDATA[Early Voting Could Move Outside Downtown]]>

The Hamilton County Board of Elections on Monday split along party lines over whether the board should move its offices and early voting from downtown, Cincinnati’s urban core, to Mount Airy, where only one bus line runs.

The two Democrats on the board dispute the move. They claim the move would make voting less accessible to voters who rely on public transportation to make it to the ballot box.

Republicans on the board argue the move would make voting more accessible to suburban voters and provide free parking that’s scarcely available at the current downtown offices. They call the move “good government” because it would consolidate some county services at Mount Airy, where county officials plan to build a crime lab as long as the Board of Elections moves with the coroner’s office and provides the critical mass necessary to financially justify renovations at a former hospital.

Republicans cautioned their proposed motion would keep early voting downtown through the 2016 presidential elections. After that, the board’s offices would move, along with early voting.

Ohios secretary of state — Republican Jon Husted — normally breaks tie votes on county boards of elections. The secretary of state’s office claims Husted will remain undecided on the issue until he reviews documents from the Board of Elections explaining both sides of the tie vote. But spokesperson Matt McClellan says Husted would like to see the Board of Elections reach a compromise before he is forced to intervene.

The board’s vote followed a contentious back-and-forth between public speakers and board members regarding the looming decision. Most speakers spoke against the move and labeled it “voter suppression.” Some dissenters supported the move for its fiscal prudence.

Alex Triantafilou, a Republican on the Board of Elections, accused Democrats of “playing politics” with the move. He claims Democrats just want to keep early voting in a Democratic stronghold like downtown.

Democrats Tim Burke and Caleb Faux countered that, along the same lines, the Mount Airy facility would benefit Republicans by making early voting more accessible to Republican-leaning suburban voters and less accessible to Democrat-leaning urban voters.

State Rep. Alicia Reece, a local Democrat who spoke at the meeting, rebuked accusations of partisan politics and reiterated an argument she made to reporters on Thursday.

“The reality is the Board of Elections at its current location has declared both Democrat and Republican winners of elections,” Reece previously said. “I think the focus is to just make sure that we have a facility that everyone can have access to, whether you’re driving or whether you’re on the bus.”

Mayor John Cranley, a Democrat, on Thursday offered free space at the Shillito’s building in an attempt to keep early voting downtown.

But Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican, told CityBeat the offer is not enough to satisfy the county’s occupancy needs at Mount Airy, even if the city moves some police services, such as SWAT operations, to the Mount Airy facility to help fill out the 500,000 square foot building.

“Without the Board of Elections coming with the crime lab, that’s not enough occupancy,” Hartmann said. “There would be some good potential co-location opportunities with the city (at the Mount Airy facility), but not enough to take up 400,000 square feet.”

County officials expect the crime lab to take up 100,000 square feet at the Mount Airy facility, and the Board of Elections would occupy another 100,000 square feet. So the county needs to fill 300,000 square feet to fully utilize the Mount Airy facility, even if the Board of Elections moves.

This story was updated with comments from the secretary of states office.

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The Hamilton County Board of Elections plans to decide today whether it will move its offices and early voting from downtown to Mount Airy. The two Democrats on the board argue moving the offices would push early voting away from public transportation options and the city’s core, while the two Republicans claim it’s “good government” because the Mount Airy site consolidates county services with the coroner’s office and includes free parking. In the event of a tie between Democrats and Republicans, Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, will break the tie. Mayor John Cranley, a Democrat, proposed an alternative site downtown on Thursday, but at least one Republican county official said it wasn’t enough to meet the county’s needs.

One of the Republicans on the board resigned as the city’s lobbyist to avoid a conflict of interest prior to today’s vote.

The Republican-controlled Ohio House last week approved a bill that would allow school boards to designate school employees to carry concealed firearms and prohibit school boards from releasing the names of those employees. Republicans argue the proposal will help make schools safer against would-be shooters. But several studies indicate more guns lead to more gun-related violence. A 2009 ABC News special also found even trained gun-wielders fail to properly react in the event of a shooting.

Fracking waste could soon move through barges on the Ohio River, depending on an incoming decision from the U.S. Coast Guard. During the fracking process, drillers pump millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground to unlock oil and gas reserves. But some of that water returns to the surface, and that wastewater needs to be dumped somewhere. Oil and gas companies support the allowance of river barges as a potentially cheaper transportation option for the wastewater. But environmentalists, emergency response experts and other critics argue a spill on the Ohio River could cause widespread damage as toxic wastewater flows down a river many communities tap into for drinking water.

Citing research from Pennsylvania fracking sites, some advocates argue Ohio officials should take another look at whether radiation from Ohio’s fracking operations is affecting surrounding landfills and aquifers.

Work at The Banks continues despite a debate over buildings’ heights.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center significantly improved outcomes for teens with asthma, according to a Pediatrics study.

Warning: Some Ohioans have been targeted by utility bill scams.

Ohio gas prices remained relatively steady at the start of the week.

Popular physicist Stephen Hawking argues there are no black holes, but other physicists appear skeptical of Hawking’s claims.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Mayor John Cranley yesterday offered free space to the Hamilton County Board of Elections at the city-owned Shillito’s building to keep the board’s offices and early voting downtown. The idea comes in the middle of a debate between Democrats and Republicans on the Board of Elections over whether they should move their offices — and early voting — to a Mount Airy facility, where only one bus line runs, to consolidate county services and avoid the cost of rent. Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann said there won’t be enough occupancy at the Mount Airy location if the Board of Elections decides not to move there. For the county, a certain amount of occupancy must be filled at Mount Airy to financially justify the move and the renovations it would require. Without the move, the county will need to find another location or means to build a new county crime lab.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune yesterday refused to announce whether he will actually run against gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald in a Democratic primary, even though he told The Cincinnati Enquirer the day before that he already made a decision. At this point, Portune’s lack of organization and name recognition means his chances of beating FitzGerald are slim to none.

Ohio’s December unemployment rate dropped to 7.2 percent from 7.4 percent the month before. The amount of employed and unemployed both increased compared to the previous year. The state of the economy could decide this year’s statewide elections, even if state officials aren’t to credit or blame for economic conditions, as CityBeat covered here.

It is perfectly legal to forgive back taxes in Hamilton County. Supporters argue the practice removes a tax burden that likely wasn’t going to get paid anyway, but opponents worry it could be misused and take away revenue from schools and other public services that rely on property taxes.

A Hamilton County court ruled against the legality of automated traffic cameras in Elmwood Place. Officials plan to appeal the ruling.

More than 10,000 Ohioans lost food stamps this month after Gov. John Kasich declined to request a federal waiver for work requirements. Hamilton County officials estimate Kasich’s decision could affect 18,000 food stamp recipients across the county.

A new Ohio House bill delays the transition from the Ohio Graduation Test to new end-of-course exams. The delay aims to provide more time to vet the tests and allow schools to better prepare for the changes.

Local home sales improved by nearly 21 percent during 2013, according to the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors.

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport reported 3 percent more passengers and 9 percent more cargo traffic in 2013.

Ohioans spent 5.8 percent more on liquor in 2013 compared to the year before, reaching a new record in yearly purchases of liquor across the state.

The Cincinnati Entertainment Awards return this Sunday.

Telling people they slept better than they did improves their performance on math and word association tests.

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<![CDATA[Cranley Proposes Alternative to Keep Early Voting Downtown]]>

Mayor John Cranley on Thursday offered the Hamilton County Board of Elections free space at the city-owned Shillito’s building to keep their offices and early voting downtown.

The offer comes in the middle of a contentious debate between Democrats and Republicans on the Board of Elections over whether the county should move the board to a former hospital at Mount Airy, where only one bus line runs.

The Board of Elections currently rents its offices from a private landlord. Moving to the Mount Airy facility would place the board on county-owned property and allow the county to avoid paying rent.

Along with the Board of Elections move, the county wants to establish a new crime lab at the Mount Airy location. Consolidating the crime lab and Board of Elections at the Mount Airy facility would provide the critical mass necessary to financially justify the move and the renovations it would require, according to county officials.

To solve the critical mass issue if the board moves to the former Shillito’s building instead, Cranley, a Democrat, said he’s willing to look into moving some city police services, including SWAT operations, to the Mount Airy facility.

But Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican, told CityBeat the offer probably won’t satisfy the county’s needs.

“Without the Board of Elections coming with the crime lab, that’s not enough occupancy,” he said. “There would be some good potential co-location opportunities with the city (at the Mount Airy facility), but not enough to take up 400,000 square feet.”

Hartmann said it’s now up to the Board of Elections to accept or reject the Mount Airy facility. If the board declines to move to Mount Airy, Hartmann explained the county would likely drop the Mount Airy plan and the county coroner would go without a new crime lab.

For the city, Cranley’s offer raises questions about what other potential uses exist for the Shillito’s building, given the high property demand downtown. But Cranley said there’s currently no credible attempt at marketing the facility for other uses.

“The building is vacant, and we spend over $100,000 a year just to maintain a vacant building,” Cranley said. “I believe that getting someone in there that takes a significant amount of space is going to open up the rest of the building, which would be over 200,000 square feet, to make it more marketable. I think long-term it would be better for the city financially.”

He added, “In the short-term I think there are some things more important than money. And I think the symbolism of keeping the Board of Elections and voting downtown is just worth it.”

City Council appears to agree with the mayor. Shortly after Cranley announced his offer, council passed a symbolic resolution opposing the Mount Airy move.

From an electoral perspective, part of the issue is which voting location would favor Democrats or Republicans. Democrats tend to dominate in urban areas like downtown, while Republicans could benefit from a facility in Mount Airy that’s closer to suburban voters.

State Rep. Alicia Reece, who joined Cranley for the announcement, tried to defuse concerns that she, Cranley and other Democrats are trying to keep voting downtown for electoral gains.

“The reality is the Board of Elections at its current location has declared both Democrat and Republican winners of elections,” Reece said. “I think the focus is to just make sure that we have a facility that everyone can have access to, whether you’re driving or whether you’re on the bus.”

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

The Hamilton County Board of Elections remains split on whether to move its offices and early voting from downtown to Mount Airy. The two Democrats on the board oppose the move because it could make voting more difficult for Over-the-Rhine and downtown residents. The two Republicans on the board support the plan because it will consolidate operations with the county, which plans to move the county crime lab to the Mount Airy site, and add free parking. If the board remains split, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted will break the tie.

Councilman Charlie Winburn shelved his idea to sell the city-owned Southern Railway to help shore up Cincinnati’s underfunded pension system. It’s unlikely the idea would have made it through City Council or Mayor John Cranley. The proposal seemed a bit hypocritical coming from Winburn, who criticized the previous city administration for attempting to sell off or lease long-term revenue sources, such as the city’s parking system, for lump sums. Still, the pension issue remains a major concern for local officials; Winburn asked council members to help find a solution to the problem this year.

The Ohio Department of Health ordered a Cincinnati-area abortion clinic to close after it failed to reach a patient transfer agreement with a local hospital, as required by law. The clinic, located in Sharonville, plans to appeal the ruling. The facility has failed to establish a patient transfer agreement since 2010, but previous Democratic administrations exempted the clinic from the regulations. At the current rate of closures, Ohio could soon fall below 10 available abortion clinics for the first time in decades. For several clinics, part of the issue stems from anti-abortion restrictions in the 2014-2015 state budget approved by Gov. John Kasich and his fellow Republicans in the Ohio legislature.

Council last week approved form-based code for a third neighborhood, Walnut Hills. The regulation allows neighborhoods to bring in new development while hopefully keeping the historic charm and character of the city.

The Cincinnati Bengals asked Hamilton County to hand over sole ownership of naming rights for Paul Brown Stadium, but county commissioners don’t seem keen on the idea.

Over-the-Rhine residents have mobilized to save two old buildings that the Freestore Foodbank originally planned to tear down. Ryan Messer, who is leading the charge to save the buildings, said on Facebook today that the Freestore Foodbank agreed to hold off on the demolitions while both parties meet with residents willing to buy and renovate the buildings.

Federal authorities questioned an Ohio man wearing Google Glass at a movie theater over fears he was attempting to record the film. No action was taken after the man confirmed the Google Glass is also a pair of prescription glasses and the recording function was turned off.

Robots could replace one-fourth of U.S. combat soldiers by 2030, according to a general.

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<![CDATA[Ohio Activists Push Voter Bill of Rights]]>

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:


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A condemned Ohio killer took more than 20 minutes to die in an execution carried out yesterday with a combination of drugs never tried before in the United States. The execution was one of the longest since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999. Throughout the nearly 25 minutes that Dennis McGuire took to die, he reportedly gasped and loudly snorted as family members and reporters watched. McGuire's attorney called the execution "a failed, agonizing experiment" and added, "The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled at what was done here today in their names." The new execution method was adopted after the previous drug's supplies ran out because a manufacturer declared it off limits for state-sanctioned kills.

In response to the troubled execution, the family plans to file a lawsuit. Ohioans to Stop Executions also called for a moratorium on the death penalty.

State Rep. Alicia Reece and other activists are pushing a Voter Bill of Rights that could end up in front of Ohio voters in 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 the county and advance online voter registration. Many of those measures are controversial to Republicans, who have repeatedly tried to limit early voting in the past couple years. But to get the amendment on the ballot, activists will need to wade through the long, costly process of gathering roughly 385,000 eligible signatures by July 2.

Commentary: "Republicans Continue Hindering Access to the Ballot."

Cincinnati's campaign for universal preschool is looking for volunteers to help raise awareness and shape the final proposal. The big question is how tuition credits for local families, particularly low-income parents, would be funded under the proposal. Despite the remaining questions, voters could vote on the initiative in November. CityBeat covered the Preschool Promise in greater detail here.

The National Weather Service called a Winter Weather Advisory for most of the Cincinnati area until 4 p.m. today. Drivers should expect reduced visibility and one or two inches of snow, mostly before noon.

As expected, Ohio officials appealed a ruling that forces the state to acknowledge same-sex marriages on death certificates.

The University of Cincinnati is spending more than $500,000 this year on lights, cameras and off-duty patrols, among other measures, to address continuing concerns about violent crimes around campus. But some students and parents say the school should pursue more aggressive efforts, such as selling anti-crime tools in the campus bookstore.

Greater Cincinnati Water Works reopened local intakes along the Ohio River after the W. Va. chemical spill passed yesterday.

Cincinnati officials admit yesterday that a pile of old road salt should have been used before other supplies, but the city says it will use the remaining pile before purchasing more salt. Councilman Charlie Winburn raised questions about the salt after he discovered the $316,000 pile.

Cincinnati ranked fifth for number of bedbug treatments in 2013.

More than 50,000 employees will get job training through the second round of the Ohio Incumbent Workforce Training Voucher Program, according to the Ohio Development Services Agency.

Extreme heat forced authorities to suspend the Australian Open for more than four hours yesterday and caused one athlete to hallucinate images of Snoopy.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick yesterday said only 11 streetcar workers are expected to lose their jobs following City Council’s pause of the $132.8 million project, far below the original estimate of 200 city officials gave on Monday. The remaining workers will be moved by contractors to other jobs or kept under ongoing utility work, which utility companies agreed to continue despite no longer qualifying for reimbursements from the city, according to Deatrick. He also said it’s “a wild guess” whether the number of layoffs will grow in the future.

Cincinnati should expect to return up to $44.9 million in federal grants funding nearly one-third of the streetcar project even though the project is only on “pause” as local officials weigh the costs of cancellation and completion, according to transportation experts who talked to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Without the federal grants, the project is effectively dead. The two swing votes on council — David Mann and Kevin Flynn — say they want to evaluate whether it would make financial sense to cancel the project this far into construction. Deatrick previously estimated the costs of cancellation could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in sunk costs through November, $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and $44.9 million in lost federal grants. But Mann and Flynn voiced distrust over the projections and called for an independent review.

Democrats and voter advocates claim Republican legislators are slowly rebuilding “voter suppression” laws that were the subject of referendum in 2012 before Republicans backed down. Democrats called on Gov. John Kasich to veto the bills. Among other measures, the bills would reduce the amount of in-person early voting days and restrict elected officials’ ability to to mail out unsolicited absentee ballot applications. Democrats claim the bills are meant to suppress voters. Republicans argue the measures help reduce “cheaters,” even though in-person voter fraud is very rare.

Chris Finney, a high-profile lawyer who is critical of local tax breaks for businesses, apologized for denying that he sought tax breaks for his law firm. Finney sought the tax breaks shortly after criticizing Cincinnati for granting a tax incentive package to convince Pure Romance to move from Loveland, Ohio, to downtown Cincinnati. Finney is the top legal crusader for the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative group with a history of anti-gay causes.

Tea party group One Percent for Liberty nominated Mayor John Cranley as a “Defender of Liberty for 2013” for his work against the streetcar project and parking privatization plan. The group previously nominated various conservative politicians and activists from around the region. The award will be presented at COAST’s Christmas party.

Hundreds of schools and businesses in the Cincinnati area today closed in response to the developing winter storm.

St. Elizabeth Healthcare and TriHealth, two of the areas’ largest health systems, yesterday announced they’re teaming up to reduce costs, improve the patient experience and generate better health outcomes.

Attorney General Mike DeWine yesterday announced he will crack down on electronic raffle operations.

Nelson Mandela, a South African icon of peace, died yesterday. Mandela was a peaceful leader of the anti-apartheid movement who went on to become South Africa’s first black president. His consistent devotion to peace inspired similar peaceful protests around the world. The New York Times put together a great interactive featuring several correspondents who witnessed Mandela first-hand here.

U.S. unemployment fell to 7 percent in November, the lowest rate in five years.

Popular Science explains how to get rid of animal testing.

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<![CDATA[ACLU Opposes New Limits on Early Voting]]>

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio says it opposes Senate Bill 238, which would reduce Ohio’s in-person early voting period from 35 to 29 days and repeal a five-day period in which Ohioans can simultaneously register to vote and vote in person.

“The five-day window offers major benefits to many voters, including those with disabilities or inflexible work schedules, and there is little evidence that it has created any major problems,” said ACLU of Ohio Director of Communications and Public Policy Mike Brickner in a statement. “S.B. 238 throws away these critical, nonpartisan benefits for no good reason.”

The bill was introduced in the Ohio Senate on Nov. 13 by Republican State Sen. Frank Larose. It’s co-sponsored by six Republicans, including State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati.

The bill’s introduction follows a letter from Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted urging legislators to trim in-person early voting days.

The Ohio Association of Election Officials claims uniform voting hours are necessary to avoid legal challenges in case some counties set longer voting periods than others, which courts could deem unfair under equal protection grounds. The uniform voting periods reduce early voting days in some counties without their approval, the organization acknowledges, but it’s necessary to keep the standards uniform without placing an unfair burden on smaller counties.

Democrats, including State Rep. Alicia Reece of Cincinnati, say the real reason behind such proposals is to suppress voters.

“The Secretary of State’s voter suppression agenda is extremely disappointing. As the state’s chief elections officer, Secretary Husted is tasked with the duty of ensuring that Ohio’s elections are fair and accessible to all citizens,” Reece said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the proposed changes are aimed at restricting voters’ access to the ballot box in 2014.”

Democrats have some evidence to their claims. Doug Preisse, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party and close adviser to Gov. John Kasich, previously wrote to The Columbus Dispatch in an email regarding early voting, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.”

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Many jobs the state government claims it’s creating don’t actually exist, according to The Toledo Blade. The Ohio Development Services Agency claims it improved its process for tracking the effects of taxpayer-financed loans, grants and subsidies, but The Blade found errors led to more than 11,000 claimed jobs that likely don’t exist. Part of the problem is that the state relies on companies to self-report job numbers; although the Ohio Development Services Agency is supposed to authenticate the reports, officials almost never visit businesses that get tax incentives. The discrepancy between claimed job creation and reality raises more questions about the efforts of JobsOhio, the privatized development agency established by Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators that recommends many of the tax subsidies going to Ohio businesses. CityBeat covered JobsOhio in further detail here.

Mayoral candidate John Cranley didn’t repay a $75,000 loan for his Incline Village Project in East Price Hill that was meant to go to a medical office and 77 apartments that never came to fruition. Kathy Schwab of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which loaned the money to Cranley’s former development company, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that they worked out terms to repay the loan after the news broke yesterday. Supporters of Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls’ mayoral campaign say the news casts doubt on whether Cranley is as fiscally responsible as he’s led on while stumping on the campaign trail. As The Enquirer notes, Cranley is very proud of the Incline Project and often touts it to show off his experience building a successful project in the private sector.

Hamilton County commissioners are expected to vote on a budget on Nov. 6. This year’s budget is the first time in six years that the county won’t need to make major cuts to close a gap. But the commissioners also told WVXU that it’s unlikely they’ll take up the county coroner’s plan for a new crime lab, which county officials say is a dire need.

A lawsuit filed on Oct. 23 asks the Hamilton County Court of Appeals to compel the Hamilton County Board of Elections to scrub UrbanCincy.com owner Randy Simes off the voter rolls, less than two weeks after the board of elections ruled Simes is eligible to vote in Cincinnati. The case has been mired in politics since it was first filed to the board of elections. Simes’ supporters claim the legal actions are meant to suppress Simes’ support for the streetcar project and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls’ mayoral campaign. Proponents of the lawsuit, who are backed by the attorney that regularly supports the anti-streetcar, anti-Qualls Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), argue they’re just trying to uphold the integrity of voting. The dispute hinges on whether Simes’ registered residence for voting — a condo owned by his friend and business colleague, Travis Estell — is a place where he truly lived or just visited throughout 2013. Currently, no hearing or judge is set for the lawsuit.

Pure Romance officially signed a lease for new headquarters in downtown Cincinnati, which means the $100-million-plus company is now set to move from its Loveland, Ohio, location starting in January 2014. Pure Romance originally considered moving to Kentucky after Ohio reneged on a tax deal, but council ultimately upped its offer to bring the company to Cincinnati. As part of its deal with the city, Pure Romance will get $854,000 in tax breaks over the next 10 years, but it will need to stay in Cincinnati for 20 years. The city administration estimates the deal will generate $2.6 million in net tax revenue over two decades and at least 126 high-paying jobs over three years.

One in six Ohioans lived in poverty in 2012, putting the state poverty rate above pre-recession levels, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Two Butler County students were arrested yesterday after they allegedly threatened to go on a shooting spree on Facebook.

Rachel Maddow accused Ky. Sen. Rand Paul of plagiarizing his speech off Wikipedia.

The Taste of Belgium’s next location: Rookwood Exchange.

Pollinating bees could deliver pesticides in the future.

Early voting is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended. Check out CityBeat’s coverage and endorsements for the 2013 election here.

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<![CDATA[Lawsuit Filed to Scrub Blogger Off Voter Rolls]]>

A lawsuit filed on Oct. 23 asks the Hamilton County Court of Appeals to compel the Hamilton County Board of Elections to scrub UrbanCincy.com owner Randy Simes off the local voter rolls.

The lawsuit was filed less than two weeks after the board of elections ruled that Simes is eligible to vote in Cincinnati.

The case has been mired in politics since it was first filed to the board of elections. Simes’ supporters claim the legal actions are meant to suppress Simes support for the streetcar project and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls’ mayoral campaign. Proponents of the lawsuit argue they’re just trying to uphold the integrity of voting.

Attorney Curt Hartman is spearheading the lawsuit. He regularly represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative group that opposes the streetcar project and Qualls.

The lawsuit claims Simes isn’t legally able to vote in Cincinnati because he currently resides in South Korea and lived in Chicago prior to the move overseas.

Ohio election law requires a place of residency to vote, but someone can remain on the voter rolls if he or she intends to return to the city or state while in another part of the country or overseas.

Simes’ supporters, who the board of elections sided with on Oct. 14, claim Simes has every intention of returning to Cincinnati when he’s done with his work in South Korea. Simes contract with his employer, Parsons Brinckerhoff, states he’ll return to Cincinnati in two years.

Until then, Simes is registered to vote at a condominium owned by his friend and business colleague, Travis Estell.

According to Estell’s testimony to the board of election, Simes kept a key and sometimes stayed for a week when he came and went from the residence throughout the spring and summer. Simes also has credit card and bank mail sent to the address, and he attempted to change his registered driver’s license address to match the residence, Estell said.

But Hartman says the evidence, which was gathered largely through Simes’ social media activities, shows Simes was a visitor, not a resident. He cites Estell’s testimony that Simes lived out of a suitcase and didn’t pay rent when he stayed in Cincinnati.

Tim Burke, chairman of the board of elections and Hamilton County Democratic Party, says there’s a reason three out of four members of the board, including one Republican, agreed Simes should remain on the voter rolls.

“The facts that were presented didn’t rise to the legal standard of clear and convincing evidence to justify depriving the voter of his right to vote,” Burke says.

Burke likens the arrangement to a Procter & Gamble employee who spends a year or two overseas but still keeps the right to vote in Cincinnati. Burke says someone could even sell his home in Cincinnati and keep his right to vote from the sold residence.

Hartman says the comparison doesn’t work because a Procter & Gamble employee would live in and keep ties to Cincinnati prior to moving overseas. He claims Simes’ decision to register to vote from Chicago in 2012 effectively broke his electoral ties with Cincinnati and Ohio.

But the argument could be rendered moot. Burke, who is named as one of the defendants in the lawsuit, says the legal challenge might not make it to court because two different people filed the lawsuit to the court of appeals and complaint to the board of elections. That could render the lawsuit procedurally defective and lead to a dismissal, according to Burke.

The lawsuit currently has no scheduled hearing or judge, but Hartman says he hopes to expedite hearings in time for the Nov. 5 election.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

A Republican-proposed bill in the Ohio legislature is drawing criticism from voting rights advocates because they say it would unnecessarily limit absentee voting. The bill would permit the secretary of state to send out absentee-ballot applications on even years, when gubernatorial and presidential elections are held, only if the legislature funds the mailings, and it would prevent county election boards from mailing out additional ballot applications beyond what the state sends out. Previously, some counties mailed unsolicited ballot applications to all voters to potentially reduce lines on Election Day. Voting rights advocates say the bill will dampen and reduce voter participation, but State Sen. Bill Coley, the bill’s sponsor, argues it’s necessary to bring uniformity to county-by-county absentee voting.

A nine-member panel of criminal justice officials on Friday recommended limiting access and improving oversight of Ohio’s controversial facial recognition program, following a two-month review of the system and public criticisms over the program’s secrecy and alleged lack of oversight. The facial recognition program, which is part of a state database of criminal justice records known as the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG), was live for more than two months and 2,677 searches before Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine formally announced its existence in August. The program allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information; previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear debated Obamacare on Sunday’s Meet the Press. Beshear pointed to his state’s successful rollout of Kynect, a Kentucky-operated online marketplace for state-based health insurance plans. The Kentucky marketplace has already enrolled 26,000 Kentuckians, although 21,000 are Medicaid enrollees. Meanwhile, Kasich criticized the rocky launch of the federal portal HealthCare.gov, which only applies to states, like Ohio, that declined to run their own online marketplaces. The federal portal has been practically unworkable for a huge majority of Americans since it launched on Oct. 1. Kasich also claimed Obamacare will increase health insurance costs in Ohio — a claim that goes against findings in a national premium model developed by Avik Roy, a conservative health care expert who is typically critical of Obamacare. CityBeat covered Obamacare’s Ohio rollout in further detail here.

Councilwoman Yvette Simpson is questioning why WCPO used a man named Jim Kiefer as a source after he posted racist insults aimed at her on social media. WCPO quoted Kiefer in a story as a John Cranley supporter, but the Cranley campaign quickly distanced itself from Kiefer upon learning of his history of bigoted posts on his Facebook wall, which was public at the time but is now private. Kiefer told CityBeat the posts were supposed to be jokes.

The ongoing mayoral race looks like the most expensive since Cincinnati began directly electing its mayors in 2001.

City Council could move forward with a plan next month to reduce the noise freight trains make overnight.

Emma and William were the most popular names in Cincinnati in 2012.

Ohio gas prices dipped this week after two straight weeks of increases.

The furthest confirmed galaxy shows off light from just 700 million years after the Big Bang.

Early voting is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended. Check out CityBeat’s coverage and endorsements for the 2013 election here.

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