Saturday, August 16, 2008

GOP crying foul over law it passed

GOP crying foul over law it passed

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In trying to close a brief window that will allow simultaneous voter registration and absentee voting, Ohio Republicans are engaging in "blatant voter suppression," a leading legal expert on voting said yesterday.

"This is exactly what the law says and what it allows," said Daniel Tokaji, a professor at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. "If the Republicans are trying to close the window, they would be violating the law they wrote."

Tokaji, a frequent critic of Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, said she is "absolutely right on this one. ... It could be the best thing she's done in office."

Partisan battle lines are being drawn over Brunner's directive to county boards of elections, clarifying that state law allows a five-day overlap during which Ohioans can register to vote and vote by absentee ballot at the same time.

The "no-fault absentee" voting law has been in place since 2005, when it was passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed by GOP Gov. Bob Taft.

The law allows absentee voting, for any reason, to begin 35 days before an election. Another law on the books for several years closes voter registration 30 days before Election Day.

That leaves a five-day period during which people can register and immediately vote absentee. In Franklin County, about 60 did so for the 2006 general election, with no recorded complaints.

But the registration/voting window suddenly has become an issue this year because Democrats have announced a get-out-the-vote campaign to capitalize on the opportunity.

Kevin DeWine, a state representative and deputy chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, argues that Brunner's interpretation creates "an illegal loophole in the state law to advance same-day registration and voting ... which was never a consideration when the General Assembly passed the law."

DeWine said Brunner's "troubling partisan agenda" violates elections law that requires voters to have lived in a precinct at least 30 days before they are qualified to vote.

"This has nothing to do with denying people access to the ballot," he added. "The issue is about whether or not safeguards are in place."

He said a lawsuit challenging Brunner's decision is being considered.

Along with Tokaji, Democrats countered that DeWine's argument is all wet.

"My Republican friends have created yet another conspiracy," Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said in a conference call. "They are trying to deflect and confuse and suppress voters."

Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman, who also was on the call, added: "This is walking down the path of scaring and intimidating voters and suppressing the vote in an important election year."

In a statement late yesterday afternoon, Brunner said: "Our hope is that everyone will take a step back and work together in voters' best interests to find solutions to these questions, rather than fight it out with press releases and lawsuits. Public squabbling just leads to voter confusion."

The issue of proper voter identification also has been raised.

The law requires that people who vote absentee in person before Election Day provide identifying information, such as the last four digits of their Social Security number or their full Ohio driver's license number. A full ID is not required.

However, on Election Day, voters, including those voting absentee, must show a form of ID unless they are casting a provisional ballot that will depend on verification of their registration information.

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