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Lawmakers Continue Behind-The-Scenes Talks On Election Changes

Ohio lawmakers have shelves the repeal of the controversial election reform law that’s up for a referendum on the fall ballot. But that doesn't mean they're not talking about it. Majority Republicans in the Ohio House were ready to vote on a bill that would have repealed the controversial election law. But at the last minute, the repeal legislation was pulled from consideration. The reason: Republican House Speaker Bill Batchelder wants to take a closer look at an offer that was backed by the group that put the referendum on the ballot. "The deal was that the Republicans would make this a clean repeal and would strip the language in SB 295 that eliminates the 3 busiest days of early voting. In exchange for that, the petition committee would agree to pull house bill 194 off that ballot," said Dem. State Rep. Kathleen Clyde. That House Bill 194 that’s currently on the ballot contained some other provisions, but it’s the three-day window raising the most concerns. The bill that would have repealed House Bill 194, but was pulled at the last minute, did not restore that three-day window of early voting. Dennis Willard with the group "We are Ohio," the same group behind the repeal of a collective bargaining law last fall, says there’s good reason why that three day window matters. "Ohioans must be allowed to vote on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election day," Willard said. "There’s a need. There’s a demand for early voting on that last weekend. In 2008, an estimated 93 thousand Ohioans voted during this three day period." Willard’s group, along with unions, has been circulating an online petition, asking lawmakers to restore that 3 day voting window. And he says, in the first 36 hours of circulation, more than 10 thousand signatures were collected. Democrats accuse Republicans who passed the controversial bill in the first place of voter suppression. And that’s the type of talk Speaker Batchelder’s spokesman, Mike Dittoe, says needs to end. "We do need to tone down the rhetoric a little bit. Certainly, this is not a voter suppression bill. We heard a lot from the minority caucus recently about the 300 plus thousand people who signed this to get this on the ballot. Well, there’s still about 11 point 2 million people around the state of Ohio who did not sign the ballot." Dittoe says Batchelder wants to take a look at the proposed deal….and wants to talk to the people who would be affected by it. "There are a lot of interested parties in this issue. There’s not only the house but the senate. We have to see where the Governor would land on this issue. And I think in addition to the fair elections committee, we also have to take into account the view of boards of elections throughout the state who actually weighed in on House Bill 194 when it was going through the legislature. "And it’s my understanding one of the provisions that they liked quite a bit about house bill 194 was the fact that there was not voting the weekend before the election. Dittoe says boards of elections wanted those three days to get ready for the actual Election day. Republican Gov. John Kasich says he doesn’t want to weigh in right now. "I think it’s possible for us to come up with a good election reform package. But let’s sit down one more time... . Let them sit down one more time...and listen to what people have to say. "It’s not an issue I was intimately involved with but it’s the leaders of the legislature that said let’s take another crack at it and I think that’s good." As for Democratic Rep. Clyde, she’s also encouraged Republican House Speaker Bill Batchelder is willing to take a look at the deal. "That’s a great sign that he is interested in working with us but it’s pretty simple what the demands are. And I’m hopeful that we can all reach an agreement. The vote on the legislative plan to repeal the election reform law has now been scheduled for May 8th. The question is what changes, if any, will be made to the bill between now and then.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.