Ohio AG rejects 'voter bill of rights' wording for constitutional amendment

Supporters vow to try again

COLUMBUS -- Ohio’s attorney general rejected Thursday the petitions for a ballot issue to create a “voter bill of rights,” but backers said their efforts would continue to get the measure on the November ballot.

Ohio Attorney Mike DeWine rejected the petition because its summary was not “a fair and truthful statement of the measure to be referred.”

The summary contained two misrepresentations regarding provisions where the Ohio Constitution is preempted by federal law, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

In the first instance, the summary included a provision about how a voter may verify his or her identity by providing certain forms of identification, including a college-issued I.D. card.

But federal law requires specific forms of identification for first-time voters who registered by mail to vote and have never voted in a federal election, DeWine said. Generally, college I.D.s aren’t considered valid in those situations.

Also, the summary stated any voter who doesn’t vote for four consecutive years ceases to be a voter unless he or she again registers to vote.

A federal law passed in 1993, though, supersedes the provision and provides for a different process, the attorney general said.

“For these reasons, I am unable to certify the summary as a fair and truthful statement of the proposed amendment,” DeWine said in a prepared statement.

“However, I must caution that this letter is not intended to represent an exhaustive list of all defects in the submitted summary,” DeWine wrote.

State Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Bond Hill), who is leading the effort for the charter amendment, said the wording would be modified by the group’s attorneys and resubmitted.

“This is not unusual,” Reece said. “There have been several ballot initiatives that, on their first try, don’t make it.”

The group pushing for the charter amendment, called Ohioans for a Voters Bill of Rights, will begin circulating modified petitions as early as this weekend or next week, she added.

If the measure qualifies for the ballot and is approved by voters, it would adopt voting guidelines into the Ohio Constitution.

The amendment would specify all qualified Ohio citizens have the right to cast a ballot and have it counted.

Additionally, it would establish standards for how long early voting should be allowed, set guidelines for how polls should function on Election Day and prohibit legislators from passing laws to restrict voting opportunities.

The Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly is considering bills that would impose restrictions on mailing unsolicited absentee ballots and reduce the early voting period by a week.

Reece, who heads the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, said the bills would unfairly impact poor and minority voters.

“We knew this process would not be easy because it’s never been done before,” Reece said. “This is something historical in nature.

“We will not stop,” she said. “We’ll make the necessary tweaks with the attorneys and be back.”

To get a constitutional amendment on the ballot, an initial petition containing summary language and 1,000 signatures from Ohio registered voters must be submitted to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Once the summary and signatures are certified, the Ohio Ballot Board will determine if the amendment contains a single issue or multiple issues.

Backers must then collect signatures from about 358,000 registered Ohio voters.

Deadline for the signatures is July 2.

For more stories by Kevin Osborne, visit www.wcpo.com/osborne . Follow him on Twitter at @kevinwcpo

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