Compiled by The Associated Press
Cleveland Plain Dealer. March 31, 2023.
Editorial: Be prepared for significant election-rule and ID changes for May 2 primary
Per the collective wisdom of Ohio lawmakers, the sweeping election-law changes passed at the last minute in December in House Bill 458 take effect a week from today, on April 7 — three days after early voting for the May 2 primary begins April 4.
Does that mean the law doesn’t apply for those first few days of early voting? No. “The law applies whether voters cast ballots in person on Election Day or during Ohio’s early voting period,” cleveland.com’s Jake Zuckerman explained March 30.
Voters should be prepared for significant changes in voting-identification requirements, early voting and absentee-voting schedules and deadlines. And thanks to a February purge of Ohio’s voting rolls that scrubbed tens of thousands off the rolls for voting inactivity, death, incarceration or other reasons — including more than 3,700 in Cuyahoga County, more than 1,500 in Summit County, and hundreds in Lorain, Medina, Lake, Portage and Geauga counties — voters should verify as soon as possible whether they’re still on the rolls, or update their registrations if they’ve moved.
Monday, April 3, is the last day to register to vote, update registrations or make sure you’re still on the voting rolls for the May 2 primary, which includes a hotly contested Bedford Municipal Court race and council races in Berea, Oakwood and Parma. There are also key Democratic mayoral primaries in the cities of Akron and Lorain. So, if you need to register, check or update your registration, be sure to do that right away.
HB 458’s new photo voter ID requirements will also apply for the May 2 primary, including for early and absentee voters. A driver’s license, state or federal veterans photo ID or a valid passport all satisfy the photo ID requirement, but alternatives like utility bills and bank statements no longer can be used to validate your identity.
So, plan ahead if you need to obtain a photo ID to vote. You can now get a state ID for free from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles under the law, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission. The LSC also notes that HB 458 includes a photo ID exemption for those with religious objections to being photographed, but they will have “to sign an affidavit to that effect and to cast a provisional ballot using the last four digits” of their Social Security number.
Also of note for voters who prefer to cast their votes early in person or by mail are significant changes concerning both processes.
HB 458 eliminated in-person early voting on the day before the primary, so the last date Ohio voters can vote in person for the May 2 primary will be Sunday, April 30. To make up for the lost day of early voting, however, the law requires those hours to be reallocated as extended early-voting hours the prior week. So, for the May 2 primary, early voting hours, which are normally 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, will be from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. starting Monday April 24, with those same hours the following Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. On Tuesday, April 25, early-voting hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Early-voting hours for the weekend before the election remain the same — Saturday, April 29, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, April 30, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Regarding absentee ballots, voters should be aware of two significant changes. HB 458 shortened the window to apply for an absentee ballot by about four days. Instead of noon on the Saturday before the election, the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is now close of business on the Tuesday prior to the election — that is, by 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday April 25.
Even more significant is the tightened deadline by which your absentee ballot must arrive at the board of elections for it to count — four days after the election instead of a 10-day grace period. So, if you have to mail your absentee ballot, be sure to allow more time for it to arrive. This provision will likely have a particularly negative impact on overseas and military voters — one reason our editorial board has called on the legislature to revisit this part of HB 458. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose should make a point, for all elections this year, of assessing from the state’s 88 boards of election what percentage of filled-out overseas and military ballots arrived too late to be counted – and by how many days.
Columbus Dispatch. March 30, 2023.
Editorial: Despaired Ohio lawmakers ready to slap voters in the face to stop abortion vote
“If Ohio leaders truly believe voters want this change to our constitution, then put it on the ballot during a general election when people turn out to vote,” Columbus Dispatch Editorial Board
A word sums up an effort led by Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Senate President Matt Huffman, State Rep. Brian Stewart and others to steal a power Ohioans have enjoyed since 1912: undemocratic.
It is bad enough that the fear of voters casting ballots to ensure abortion rights in the state constitution driving officials elected to serve Ohioans to erode a 100-year-old right.
It is amazing that some Republicans in the Statehouse would push so hard to change how the state amends the constitution by forcing a vote during a low-turnout August election months after the same lawmakers voted that such elections should be limited. This entire effort slaps voters in the face and betrays our democracy.
Yet Senate and House resolutions are in play that would amend the state constitution to require 60% of voter approval for constitutional amendments instead of a simple majority.
An attempt to push similar legislation forward failed during December’s lame duck session. These resolutions should fall on their faces too.
Why is this happening?
The House and Senate need a 60% affirmative vote to place the issue on the August ballot, giving LaRose, Huffman, Stewart and the rest the first part of what they need to get their way. Voters would still have the final say on whether the rules would change.
LaRose has said the changes are needed to protect Ohio’s constitution from outside interest groups and “partisan groups are gearing up for constitutional warfare.” But Huffman and Stewart are among those who have been blunt about the real reason Senate Joint Resolution 2 and House Joint Resolution 1 are being pushed —blocking a potential November ballot initiative to expand abortion access.
As with the 2022 Ohio redistricting battle, Huffman, LaRose and other Republicans want to change the rules to get what they want.
Nearly 68% of Ohioans who responded to a 2022 USA TODAY Network Ohio/Suffolk University poll indicated that they opposed Ohio banning abortion after cardiac activity is detected usually around six weeks.
How has Ohio used initiative petition to amend the constitution?
Putting the intense abortion debate aside, groups and individuals on both sides of the political spectrum have used Ohio’s citizen-initiated statutes to move constitutional issues forward when lawmakers have not.
Recent examples include legalizing casino gambling in 2009, banning indoor smoking at workplaces in 2006 and defining marriage as between one man and one woman in 2004.
There is no reason to require a higher level of voter support just because voters might vote against the will of politicians on the abortion issue in November.
‘Willy-nilly at a whim’
Ohio’s constitution is far too important to change during an August election.
House Speaker Jason Stephens seemingly gets that obvious point saying recently he is against the August election idea.
“Let me be abundantly clear. I am and have always been 100% Pro-Life. I will stand for life at every turn; however, I am not for changing the rules willy-nilly at a whim when it comes to changing our constitution,” Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, tweeted March 24.
He indicated Wednesday that he might flip-flop, saying that an August election is a “possibility.”
August elections involving constitutional amendments are virtually unheard of here.
The last time voters considered a constitutional amendment in August was way back in August of 1926. Ohioans are not accustomed to voting in August.
Last year’s redistricting fiasco led to two primaries — one in May for U.S. Senate, Congress and statewide offices and one in August for the state lawmakers. About 21% of Ohioans voted in May compared to less than 7% who voted in August.
While families are distracted with vacations and getting ready for kids to go back to school, Ohio Republicans want to push a major change to the way Ohio amends its constitution when nobody is paying attention. Putting this on the ballot in August during the dog days of summer with the goal of squashing the will of the people screams of desperation and voter suppression.
If Ohio leaders truly believe voters want this change to our constitution, then put it on the ballot during a general election when people turn out to vote.
Living in a cave?
It is particularly despicable and disappointing that LaRose, the officer charged with ensuring fair Ohio elections, pretends placing such a measure on an August ballot would be just.
“There will be very few people in the state not aware that there’s a constitutional question on the ballot in August. You’d have to be in a cave to perhaps not realize that issue was there,” he said during a recent press conference.
LaRose no doubt knows that’s a dangerous and disingenuous statement.
Turnout in special elections is traditionally low even when important issues are on the ballot. Just last year LaRose said as much when he supported a new law that says local governments and school districts can only hold August elections when there is a fiscal emergency.
It is abhorrent that Ohio’s lawmakers want to up the ante in how to change the state constitution and do it in such a cowardly manner — when they know people will not be paying attention. Politics is rarely fair, but democracy should never be a game.
LaRose, Huffman and the rest want to stack the deck against Ohio voters.
The basic rules of engagement shouldn’t be changed just because they fit one political agenda or another. That’s not democracy.
Keep the simple majority and if it must go to a vote, let Ohioans decide in November.
Toledo Blade. March 29, 2023.
Editorial: Strengthen ethics bill
The Ohio House Government Oversight committee should adopt the amendments that were recommended by Common Cause Ohio during a hearing on the Ethics and Financial Disclosure Reform Act Tuesday.
As written, the bill would require disclosure of how much lobbyists are paid by their clients to advance legislation, and nominees to boards such as the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio would have to disclose any potential conflicts of interest.
While strongly supporting the bill sponsored by Rep. Derek Merrin (R., Monclova Township) as “transformative and much needed reform,” Common Cause Ohio had some suggestions to make it better.
The major improvement would eliminate the use of secret funds for political influence like the $61 million FirstEnergy spent through Generation Now to pass and protect against referendum the $1.3 billion bailout in House Bill 6.
Another excellent anti-corruption amendment proposed by Common Cause is repeal of the Ohio Open Records Act exemption for the Legislative Services Commission that was instituted in 1998 to conceal utility influence in the writing of bills.
In the nearly three years since the FirstEnergy bribery scandal rocked the Statehouse there have been no laws enacted in response.
Instead, the Ohio legislature’s anti-corruption efforts have been limited to making it harder to detect, as if Ohio’s endemic statehouse corruption is a public relations problem.
Common Cause Ohio predicted to lawmakers that if they don’t shut down the avenues of corruption such as those which greased House Bill 6’s passage, Ohio will experience bigger scandals in the future.
Ohio’s ethics laws are weak compared to most other states and the federal government.
Holding hearings is the easy part.
The committee should amend this bill as recommended and move it to the floor for passage as quickly as possible.
Youngstown Vindicator. March 29, 2023.
Editorial: Ohio schools still lack a fair state funding formula
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has some big goals for education in the Buckeye State, and he shared some of them with members of the Ohio School Boards Association, Ohio Association of School Business Officials and the Buckeye Association of School Administrators in Columbus last week.
According to a report by the Ohio Capital Journal, DeWine’s hopes range from improving literacy and access to career tech schools to finally getting the Fair School Funding Plan fully implemented.
“My intention will be to continue, as long as I’m governor, to continue to move forward and to finish that job,” he said. “In this budget we proposed, we’re on track and on schedule.”
But that timeline does not have the sense of urgency many believe is needed to best serve our students. Rather than wait another two years, many public school advocates would like to see the Fair School Funding Plan fully funded now. That is understandable, but there’s a problem.
We still don’t have the funding formula that will give each district what it needs. A recalculation of student costs based on new studies and district-by-district data is in order. The Capital Journal reports economists with the Ohio Education Policy Institute found barriers created by students’ economic situations lead to more funding need in some districts. That is not a surprise, but the funding formula does not do a good job of accounting for it.
“In general, the formula determines a per-pupil local contribution based on a mix of property value and income measures, then requires the state to make up the difference to bring the total up to the district’s per-pupil base cost in order to direct more state funding to districts with lower wealth,” the Legislative Service Commission stated in its analysis, according to the Capital Journal.
In other words, there are still gaps in getting struggling school districts what they need to educate and support students — and help the next generation make the leap our communities need. If the Fair School Funding Plan is adjusted to include new calculations that properly fund ALL school districts, DeWine and lawmakers should work to put full implementation on the fast track.
Ohio’s children can’t afford to wait.
Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. April 1, 2023.
Editorial: Credit where credit is due
The temptation to contort the law to benefit a political position is strong.
That’s why it’s important to recognize when politicians put following the law ahead of their personal political beliefs, as several Republican politicians have done in their handling of a proposal to amend the Ohio Constitution to protect reproductive rights.
The Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety amendment would prevent the government from interfering in individual decisions about contraception, fertility, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care and abortion.
Abortion, however, could be prohibited once a fetus could survive outside of the womb, which is typically at 22 weeks or later.
Republicans and anti-abortion groups are vehement in their opposition.
Take Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who was among the Republican state attorneys general asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that had protected abortion rights since 1973.
The high court struck down Roe last year, and Yost rushed to court to get a stay lifted on an Ohio law that banned abortions once a fetal heartbeat could be detected.
Yet Yost certified a petition summary for the proposed amendment March 2. It was an early step in the process of getting the measure on the ballot.
The five-member Ohio Ballot Board then met March 13 to decide whether the proposed amendment dealt with only a single subject. The members were unanimous in agreeing it did. That was important because Ohio law dictates that proposed amendments can’t deal with multiple subjects.
There are three Republicans on the board, including Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and state Sen. Theresa Gavarone of Bowling Green.
Gavarone made clear that she viewed the question she was voting on as “procedural” despite her personal opposition to abortion.
“I am horrified at the thought of this amendment, I mean, the right to kill babies being put into Ohio’s Constitution,” Gavarone said.
The Ballot Board’s decision cleared the way for proponents to begin gathering the necessary signatures of roughly 413,000 voters, a task that must be completed by July 5. Those working on the campaign have said they intend to gather far more signatures than required, which is smart because there’s a good chance some of the signatures will be invalid.
That should have been the end of it, but two members of Cincinnati Right to Life asked the Ohio Supreme Court to declare that the proposed amendment dealt with more than one issue. Abortion, they contended, is different from other reproductive issues because it involves the life of a “third party,” an unborn child.
Splitting the proposed amendment would delay the process. Additionally, having multiple proposed amendments likely would confuse voters and make passage harder. That’s the whole point of the legal challenge.
On Wednesday, Yost filed a response on behalf of the Ballot Board asking for the case to be dismissed with prejudice, meaning the anti-abortion activists couldn’t refile it.
Again, Yost is a staunch abortion opponent, but he put his own views aside to defend the Ballot Board’s reasonable decision.
None of this is to say that Yost and Gavarone want the amendment to make it on the ballot. Were it to do so, they no doubt would campaign against it.
Already Gavarone is working another angle to make passing the proposed amendment harder.
Last week, she and state Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, introduced a bill that would allow special elections in August for voters to consider proposed constitutional amendments. Their bill comes mere months after the General Assembly voted to do away largely with August special elections, which are expensive and low-turnout affairs.
Gavarone and other Republicans want to pass a constitutional amendment of their own. It would raise the threshold for passing future constitutional amendments to 60%. Right now, amendments can pass with a simple majority.
The whole point of that exercise is to make it harder for the proposed reproductive amendment to pass if it makes it to the November ballot.
Those political machinations are legal, even if they are blatantly undemocratic.
Still, politicians deserve praise when they refrain from twisting the law in pursuit of their ends.
Sandusky Register. March 30, 2023.
Editorial: Sitterly isn’t doing his job
Properly maintaining public records is what helps public agencies serve the community.
Improperly maintaining records is what creates mistrust and suspicion — and who knows what else — diminishing the integrity of our public institutions and the confidence the public has in the people who run them.
In January, the Huron County Sheriff’s office manager wrote in response to a public records request for disciplinary files that those records “were purged in accordance with the county’s labor contract with deputies.” Problem is, a labor contract provision cannot override the requirements of state law, and state law protects those records from being purged, destroyed or discarded.
For three months now, Sheriff Todd Corbin has ignored questions about missing public records, deferring to Huron County Prosecutor James Joel Sitterly as his legal representative. And for three months, Sitterly has ignored those same questions, as if not talking about it makes it OK to toss records that are protected by law.
With each passing day as both men refuse to take responsibility to assure the public that the sheriff’s office isn’t continuing to unlawfully or improperly destroy public records, if it has been doing that, they both diminish the confidence the public has in the sheriff’s office and the prosecutor’s office.
These two men are elected and bestowed enormous power as a result. We would expect — and the public should expect — that they could offer assurances that if there was a problem, it has been addressed and records in their offices are being protected as required by law. Problem is, there’s no evidence suggesting that is true.
Sitterly, especially, has an obligation to determine which records have been destroyed, who ordered their destruction, why was the order given and has this mismanagement been corrected and remediated. If the unlawful destruction of public records occurred or is continuing to occur, it must be stopped and the damage that’s been done must be assessed.
It’s Sitterly’s job to address those questions. If he continues to ignore it, perhaps the Ohio Attorney General or the Office of Disciplinary Counsel could address this concern.
Bottom line: Public records are not the property of Sheriff Corbin or Prosecutor Sitterly; they are public property and the law requires these men to secure them, not destroy them.
Public records access
Records are a crucial component of the governing process. Like other important government resources, records and the information they contain must be well managed to ensure accountability, efficiency, economy and overall good government, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s office.
The Ohio Public Records Act provides:
“To facilitate broader access to public records, a public office or person responsible for public records shall organize and maintain public records in a manner that they can be made available for inspection or copying in accordance with division (B) of this section. A public office also shall have available a copy of its current records retention schedule at a location readily available to the public.” Ohio Rev. Code § 149.43(B)(2)