The Ohio Senate Thursday finished off a measure to change deadlines for overseas and military Ohioans to submit their absentee ballots.
In a 26-2 vote, the body concurred with changes made late Wednesday night by the House, and granted Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s request to allow absentee ballots to be sent up to 30 days before the election and to expedite delivery of those ballots to and from the voters as part of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.
The amendment was made to a previously passed bill, Senate Bill 11, which was originally written to designate a week for congenital heart defect awareness.
With Senate approval, the measure now heads to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk, along with the appropriation of $200,000 that comes with it.
The Senate had passed the absentee vote language in a unanimous vote Tuesday, but the House couldn’t get a majority vote to approve the measure with an emergency clause, which would have allowed the bill to take effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.
SB 11 came into play after House Republicans change their strategy, making the measure an appropriation which only requires 50 votes in the House chamber, well within the GOP majority.
State Sens. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, and Cecil Thomas, D-Avondale, were the two votes against Thursday’s Senate measure, something Thomas said he would do during his floor speech. He said, however, his vote wasn’t intended to be a slight against the military.
“I don’t want anybody to think this is about the military…this is about something much, much more complex that has been created as a result of redistricting,” Thomas said.
He, along with other Democrats who spoke on the matter, said moving the primary date was the better solution. No motion was made to do so, unlike the House Democrats, who moved to move the primary to June 28 during debate on Wednesday night.
Sykes did not make a floor speech this time around, but pointed to the rushed process as a reason for changing his vote.
“Stuffing this May 3 election date, primary date, down our throats, we’re choking on it,” Sykes said. “I just think that we’ve gone too far with it and it’s just not practical at this particular time.”
Sykes said he stands by his choice to vote for the previous method of passing the bill with an emergency clause, which he supported based on his desire for accurate elections and voter rights.
“But this procedure that they’re using now to bypass the constitutional requirement and bypass the emergency clause, I just don’t think it’s appropriate,” Sykes said.
Even after only two Democrats ended up voting against the bill, Senate President Matt Huffman accused the Senate Democrats of bowing to the whims of the National Redistricting Action Fund and its leaders, saying he had proof that unnamed Dems had been called by the NRAF and given certain demands.
“I don’t think it’s probably a state secret that what began happening on Tuesday was that a group led by (former U.S. Attorney General) Eric Holder and one of the (congressional redistricting lawsuit) litigants began calling the state legislators in Ohio and making a variety of, fill in the blank, demands, orders, threats, whatever it may be about how they should vote,” Huffman said.
When asked to provide the proof, Huffman said he couldn’t “without having a bunch of confidential conversations.”
Several Democratic members of both the House and Senate denied the claim.
Minority Leader Kenny Yuko said he hadn’t received any calls himself, and said he hadn’t been told by any member of the caucus that they’d been contacted.
“I have not received one single phone call from any group at all, anybody,” Yuko told reporters after Senate session.
Sykes also denied any knowledge of outside pressure.
Democratic State Reps. Casey Weinstein and Jessica Miranda both denied the claim publicly. House Minority Leader Allison Russo said it was “an absolutely false accusation.”
“I take my redistricting directions from Ohio voters and the Ohio Constitution,” Russo tweeted Thursday afternoon.
The NRAF denied contacting General Assembly members when asked directly about it on Thursday.
“No, neither Attorney General Holder nor NRAF staff have contacted any legislators in the Ohio General Assembly regarding any legislation that is being brought up for a vote this week,” NRAF deputy communications director Brooke Lillard told the OCJ.
Huffman maintained his support of the most recently passed redistricting maps, and agreed with statements by House Speaker Bob Cupp that the unless the Ohio Supreme Court invalidates the maps, they remain legally valid to be used for an election.
“It’s like any piece of legislation that gets passed out of here,” Huffman said. “It is presumptively constitutional until some court rules that it’s not constitutional.”
As for a change in the primary date or other election-related decision, Huffman remained mum, saying again that his suggestion of two primaries “went over like a lead balloon.”
“I’m not going to suggest anything about a primary or anything else without consulting directly with the secretary (of state’s) office and the local boards of election,” Huffman told reporters.
This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.
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