In the midst of all the Issue 2 (SB 5) referendum, it got lost that at the same time that there was another referendum effort already underway to repeal HB 194, the Republican’s bill that gutted early voting, prohibited school districts from providing transportation to students to cast legal ballots, eliminates the requirement that poll workers direct voters to their correct precinct, permits the challenge of an early ballot if the identification envelope statement of voter is not entirely completed (except you cannot challenge if that ballot was cast overseas or alleged by a voter in the uniformed services, which tend to be Republican ballots), among other changes. The bill specifically banned county board of elections from sending out unsolicited, pre-paid return postage applications for early voting ballots. I’ll get to that in a moment.
Last month, Secretary of State Jon Husted certified that the Democratic effort to put HB 194 on this year’s general election presidential ballot succeeded. That means HB 194, which Republicans were specifically pushing to limit Democratic turnout in the 2012 Presidential election is null and void unless the bill survives the referendum vote this November. Keep in mind, also that voters in Maine last year repealed a bill the Republican Governor there signed into law that banned voters from voting on the same day they registered. That referendum was defeated by 60%-40%, virtually the same margins Ohioans rejected Issue 2. So there’s some anecdotal evidence that when voters see these games played by partisans with voting rights, they overwhelmingly vote to reject them.
Also, keep in mind that in order to prevent the Cuyahoga County Council from giving every voter in the Democratic-rich county an unsolicited absentee ballot requested, Husted and the GOP legislative leadership agreed that every Ohio voter would get an unsolicited early voting application this year, for the presidential election.
So what did Husted announce today?
Yes, what Jon Husted likely saw was some public opinion polling showing that HB 194 did not poll very well with Ohio voters. Also, and I cannot believe NOBODY else pointed it out before, maybe he realized that it was not a smart choice to provide unsolicited early vote applications for every Ohio voter in the very election in which voters are going to be asked whether to repeal a ban on sending out unsolicited absentee ballots.
Because, I’m guessing here, those who predominately vote early are going to predominately be opposed to the ban in HB 194.
Regardless, it’s clear that Husted is sounding a full retreat that can only be interpreted as a desire by Husted to avoid getting a crushing rebuke by the voters like Governor Kasich did with Issue 2 (SB 5).
After all, it would be embarrassing to say the least to be the first Secretary of State to have voting legislation you largely authored repealed by the voters. That’s the kind of thing that you don’t want if you’re planning on running for re-election as Secretary of State in 2014.
Let’s recap: The Republicans came into office with a plan to pass legislation that would drastically curtail early voting in the 2012 presidential elections in ways that would predominantly depress Democratic turnout. Democrats prevented that law from taking effect by putting it to a referendum in the 2012 election, thus maintaining the status quo.
At the same time, a panicked GOP leadership then agreed to provided early voting applications for every Ohio voter (something that has never happened to the State) in 2012 all to prevent the biggest Democratic county from doing so in 2011 and potentially impacting the Issue 2 race—which wound up being a twenty-point blowout anyways. The net result is that access to early voting in Ohio is actually going to be unprecedentedly widespread—the opposite result they wanted when they passed HB 194.
In other words, in an attempt to try to tweak Ohio’s elections laws to have it paint the State red in 2012, the Republicans instead found themselves doing this:
BTW, Husted’s Twitter account confirmed that every Ohioan will get an unsolicited absentee ballot request (based on the address on file by July 4th), so expect a big summer push by the Obama campaign and the Ohio Democratic Party to make sure your voter registration is up-to-date by then.