MARCANO: ‘Ohio Voters Bill of Rights’ jeopardizes most critical issue this election cycle

A coalition of progressive groups wants a constitutional amendment in November for an “Ohio Voters Bill of Rights,” which they say will restore fairness in casting ballots.

It’s a mistake. The bill is far too broad, wants to reverse parts of current law most voters agree on, and seems to be doomed before it starts. But more importantly, if this amendment makes it to November, it could drag down redistricting reform, the most critical issue this cycle.

Under the proposed amendment, voters could register to vote on Election Day, Ohio’s voter ID requirement would be repealed, and Ohio would be required to expand ballot drop box locations.

Some of the asks, like drop boxes, make sense. In an effort to make voting harder, the state only allows one drop box at each county Board of Elections. So, someone living in Centerville or Union would have to trek to downtown Dayton to drop off their ballots.

But some of the other provisions would be met with a hard no. For example, eight out of 10 Americans favor voters showing a valid ID at the ballot box; and Ohio offers free IDs to anyone over 17 so long as they go to the local BMV. That’s all opponents will have to focus on to sink the bill (Those socialists want to import illegal immigrants to vote Democrat!).

Some of the provisions are too vague. The initiative says, “The State shall maintain the broadest feasible and accessible means for citizens to register to vote and update their voter registration.”

Broadest, feasible, and accessible will mean different things to different people. Republicans will say Ohio has that now.

Additionally, the bill as written is six pages of dense language few will read through and will be easily subject to attack messaging.

Initiatives that pass have a simple yes-no proposition. Last August, lawmakers asked voters to make it harder to pass citizen initiatives. Voters said no because it was easy to understand that lawmakers wanted Ohioans to give up some rights to participate in government decisions. Do you want a woman to have the right to choose what she does with her body (yes), and should Ohioans be able to possess a small amount of marijuana for their personal use (yes).

The Ohio Voters Bill of Rights has a flaw from the start. Some constituents will think, “we already have the right to vote — why do we need this?”

The best outcome would be to remove repealing voter ID and narrowing the language. Focus on getting more drop boxes and be specific. Maybe each county can have one drop box per 100,000 residents (or whatever the number is) with the locations determined by the local Board of Elections. Voters favor additional drop boxes, and that would be a winning proposition. Pick one or two more focused issues that voters want and can support.

Who knows if the initiative will get enough signatures to get on the ballot or overcome the ballot language objections from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

If the initiative’s backers clear both those hurdles, that’s a real problem for redistricting. It’ll be far easier for opponents to tie the two together as a left-wing plot to place redistricting in the hands of a commission that supports illegal voting. It’s not true, but it’s a short message that will stick in the minds of some voters.

The coalition should stop its effort to get the Ohio Voters Bill of Rights on the ballot this November and wait a year so it can come back with a more focused ask that has a chance to pass.

Clear the decks for redistricting. That’s in the best long-term interests of Ohioans.

Ray Marcano’s column appears on these pages each Sunday.

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