16 October 2014

The Ohio House Republicans tactically retreated and repealed House Bill 194 – the controversial voter suppression bill. The bill was slated to be on Ohio’s November 6 ballot, and was thought by political strategists to have aided Obama’s re-election campaign in the key battleground state.

This is the first recorded case in Buckeye State history where the legislature has repealed a bill scheduled for a referendum vote by the people. Ironically, the Democrats who bitterly fought the bill, unanimously opposed its repeal.

The Democrats sought an agreement by the Republicans to restore Ohio’s practice of early voting the weekend before the election. Sensing victory in a hot button issue to push poor and minority voters to the polls who were targeted for voter suppression in the bill, the Dems argued that the repeal of the bill was unconstitutional.

Ohio House Democratic leader Armond Budish stated that the repeal of the bill was: “an admission by Republican lawmakers that they violated voter’s rights last year when they passed HB 194 to suppress Ohioans constitutional right to vote.”

The repealed HB 194 reduced the number of early voting days from 35 to 17, prohibited early voting on the weekend before the election, and eliminated the legal requirement for pollworkers to direct confused voters to their proper precinct. In the 2008 election, over 100,000 Ohioans voted on the weekend before the election, many African Americans and Latinos voted on Sunday as part of a “Souls to the Polls” drive coordinated with minority churches.

On Monday, May 9, Assistant U.S. Senate Majority leader Dick Durbin, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, chaired a field hearing on HB 194 in Cleveland, Ohio. Durbin stated, “Cutting back on early voting, making it difficult for voters to find their polling place, and hurting the ability for voters to vote absentee could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Ohio voters.”

The retreat of the right-wing dominated Republican Party reflects the over reach of the Tea Party and Koch Brothers-connected forces in the Buckeye State. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) funded by the Koch Brothers provided the model legislation for HB 194.

The Republican legislature and Governor John Kasich are still reeling from the defeat of the anti-public workers union Senate Bill 5, also an ALEC-inspired legislation.