Where does political reform stand in Ohio in May, 2016? After a successful 2015 that saw an Ohio Constitutional Amendment pass last November that truly reformed the process for drawing state election districts, political activists were optimistic that eliminating the state’s gerrymandered Congressional districts would take place the following year. Not only is this not happening, but Ohioans need to beware of a proposed bill in the General Assembly that would further weaken voting rights in the state.
Through January and February, reformers such as Catherine Turcer of Common Cause/Ohio and Carrie Davis of the League of Women Voters of Ohio were confident that the Constitutional Modernization Commission and then the Republican and Democratic leadership of the General Assembly would draft and then promote a proposal for changing Congressional redistricting that would look very similar to the new process for drawing state districts. Their hopes were dashed when the Republican leadership began to balk and question what was thought to be the agreed upon criteria for mapping the districts. It now appears that no action is likely from either the Commission or the Legislature. Furthermore, even if a good reform proposal did emerge, there is not sufficient time to mount a successful fall campaign. At best, the reform “Fair Districts Equals Fair Elections Coalition” will continue to educate the public about the need for eliminating Congressional gerrymandering.
Meanwhile, State Senator Bill Seitz of Greater Cincinnati and several other Republican members of the General Assembly are proposing a bill that would discourage average citizens from petitioning the courts to extend voting hours on Election Day when procedural delays or other unusual circumstances prevent people from voting during the regular time frame. The Bill would require citizens to come up with a bond that would cover the costs of extending voting hours in order for judges to approve a petition. Potentially such a bond could cost the petitioner as much as $60,000.
Seitz says he is attempting to stop frivolous, last minute judicial decisions to extend voting hours causing extra work and wasting tax-payer dollars. Reformers such as Catherine Turcer see such a law crippling a legitimate legal procedure established to protect someone’s right to vote. “The right to vote,” declared Turcer, “shouldn’t be dependent on the size of your bank account.” Numbered as Senate Bill 296, it is scheduled for a vote in the Senate this week.