By Julie Carr Smyth, Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Backers of a ballot proposal aimed at changing Ohio’s election laws to make it easier to vote suspended their campaign Thursday, citing their inability to collect signatures during the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision by Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections came a day after a protracted legal fight to make November’s ballot made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The state has until Monday to respond to the group’s appeal, which was joined by other ballot campaigns to raise the minimum wage and decriminalize marijuana.
Toni Webb, campaign manager for the voting issue, said there isn’t enough time left now to make the state’s signature deadline.
“While we litigated and won in federal court and were still willing to obtain the full number of signatures electronically — a method much safer during a pandemic — the state appealed that decision,” Webb said in a statement. “Because of the timing of the appeal, we will not be able to get on the ballot in 2020, but it will not prevent our work to ensure voting is secure and fair for all Ohioans.”
The group’s reform package would have automatically registered interested Ohioans to vote when they conduct business at state Bureau of Motor Vehicle offices, allowed same-day voter registration and voting, and guaranteed ballot access to military service members, overseas citizens and voters with disabilities. It also would have required a post-election audit.
J. Bennett Guess, executive director for the ACLU of Ohio, said campaign partners remain committed to advancing the effort later.
“The people of this state deserve and demand a participatory democracy that is open and accessible to every eligible Ohioan,” he said in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic and the messy, chaotic, and confusing primary underscores exactly why Ohio’s outdated election laws, which prevent voters from accessing their ballot and having it counted, must be updated and reformed.”
U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. granted the groups more flexible rules for collecting signatures in a May 19 decision, including an extended deadline and the ability to collect names electronically. The state appealed, and the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals effectively blocked Sargus’ order. The parties appealed to the nation’s high court Wednesday.
The state argues among other things that “wet ink” signature requirements laid out in Ohio’s Constitution cannot be changed without a vote of the people.