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Government and Politics


Cuyahoga County'considers ignoring state law's early voting restrictions
County Executive Ed FitzGerald urges county council today to pass an ordinance that defies state changes to early voting
by WKSU's KEVIN NIEDERMIER


Reporter
Kevin Niedermier
 
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald making the case for passing an ordinance that defies state laws prohibiting the county from many early voting measures.
Courtesy of Kevin Niedermier
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Members of Cuyahoga County Council heard the case for defying the Ohio Legislature’s ban on mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications and the Secretary of State’s reduction in early voting.

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Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald is urging council to pass an ordinance allowing the county to mail absentee ballot applications if the state does not and to restore early voting days state law makers have taken away. He, and other Democrats says the Republican-backed reductions are a way to hamper voters in heavily Democratic urban centers. FitzGerald says he’s only asking that counties have the right to do the mailing if the state doesn’t.

FitzGerald says county should have right to step in if state doesn't
"If they don’t want to do it, we still have a responsibility to make sure our residents have that option. They (the state) have not committed themselves to that basic level you’re talking about. They’re opening the door for 2016 to not mail out absentee ballot applications and there won’t be a thing we can do about it.”

Cuyahoga County has mailed out the absentee ballot applications to all eligible voters since 2006. Secretary of State Jon Husted had originally planned to block the mailing in 2012, but dropped that proposal and then funded mailing the ballots statewide in 2012’s presidential election. He'll do the same in this year’s gubernatorial election in with FitzGerald is a candidate.

Husted spokesman, Matt McCellan, says funding for the 2012 and 2014 mailings came from the federal government. Though that money is now gone, McCellan says other sources are possible. The new state law forbids Husted or anyone else from mailing the applications unless the GOP-dominated Legislature approves the funding.

Secretary of State's office says it will look for absentee voting application mailing funds
“This is important to the secretary and is something he believes in and wants to continue to do, so we would need appropriations from the state Legislature going forward, and that’s something the secretary will seek out and advocate for.”

Besides the mailings, Husted and Republican lawmakers also eliminated early voting on the Sunday before elections. McCellan says the moves are to make voting uniform across the state, and he rejects the argument  that heavily populated urban counties have different election needs than less populated rural counties.

“That means that when you have statewide issues on the ballot and voters in every county are voting on the same issue, it’s not fair or equal to have a voter in Cuyahoga County with a different level of access to a ballot that a voter in Lake, Geauga or Summit County.”

Republican Cuyahoga County Councilman Dave Greenspan supports early voting. But he questioned county Law Director Majeed Makhlouf about whether the county would be violating the 19th Amendment prohibiting the government from denying or abridging voting rights or laws.

Proposed county law would not violate 19th Amendment
“If the state law is  in place, then are we then not abridging those rights from the county to the state?”  
Malouf responded: “You’re flipping that amendment upside down. The purpose of that amendment is that the state cannot enact laws to abridge a citizens access to vote. It’s not that we are infringing on the state’s right. The whole purpose of the amendment is not to be able to impose things like poll taxes or other infringements, not the other way around.”  

Cuyahoga County adopted the early voting measures wafter long lines at polls in the 2004 presidential election. Officials in Cuyahoga and other counties say the popular measures reduce election day backups and cut election costs. A possible lawsuit against the state is being considered to have the measures restored.

 

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