Archive for August, 2011

Cuyahoga County Lawmakers Send letter to the Department of Justice

Cuyahoga County lawmakers sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder bringing attention to certain recent comments from top state elected officials which could impact upcoming elections. In the letter the lawmakers said, “We want to make sure that every voter is allowed to participate and their vote counted.  We believe Husted and Yost’s comments and actions raise questions and create controversy where none exists.  We are concerned that these comments by state elected officials may have an adverse impact on voter confidence in the elections.”

State Sen. Turner and Reps. Antonio and Foley held a press conference at the Cuyahoga County Administration Building to respond to continued attempts to make voting more difficult in Cuyahoga County and across the state, by creating voter confusion, restricting voting opportunities and thwarting a possible House Bill 194 referendum.

“This latest incident is just another example of the toxic environment of voter suppression that has taken hold in Ohio.  The fact that Secretary of State Husted – Ohio’s chief elections officer – would threaten to ban the processing of valid and legal absentee ballot applications is disturbing.  Though he has since toned-down his comments, his previous statements – combined with those of Auditor Yost – have the potential to confuse voters, dissuade participation at the polls and give rise to the need for vigilance in upcoming elections,” said Sen. Turner. “We are simply taking action to ensure that the voting rights of Cuyahoga County’s citizens are protected.”

“The mailing of ballot applications is a cost-savings measure.  According to Cuyahoga County Board of Elections member Sandy McNair, the county saved $1.2 million in 2010, by not having to purchase voting machines for the 368 precincts. The board was able to close these precincts due to the successful vote-by-mail initiative.  Not only is this the right thing to do, it’s a model of efficient and effective government,” Sen. Turner continued.

“Encouraging voters to vote absentee in counties as large as Cuyahoga prevents long lines, confusion and chaos on Election Day,” said Rep. Foley. “It is clear through House Bill 194 and the recent actions of Ohio’s Republican Leadership that they will stop at nothing to remain in power even if that means disenfranchising voters and creating chaos and confusion around elections.  This repeated claim of needing uniform procedures is deceitful.  These policies will actually create huge disparities on Election Day.”

“I am proud of Cuyahoga County for raising the bar for every voter to access the ballot which should be a priority for all Ohio voters. Instead of devising new obstacles to voting, our statewide office holders need to pledge to stop these partisan games and assure voters that all votes are equal and will be counted,” Rep. Antonio said.

A copy of the full letter is below.

August 31, 2011

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General of the United States
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Holder:

As members of the Ohio General Assembly representing Cuyahoga County, we wish to bring to your attention certain recent comments from top state elected officials which we believe could have an adverse impact on voter confidence in upcoming elections. As you may know, the Cuyahoga County Council voted on Monday, August 29, 2011, to expend county resources to send out applications for early voting this fall.  As we understand it, we will be the only county to do so.  House Bill 194, which passed this summer, prohibited county Boards of Elections from sending out applications to voters, but it made no reference to other governmental units such as County Commissioners or in our case, our County Executive and County Council.  In Ohio, the general rule of thumb is that County Commissions and Councils have broad spending authority and that unless otherwise prohibited from some action, may engage in it.

The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections has sent out applications to voters since 2006, in a successful effort to diminish long lines at the polls and make it easier and more convenient for residents to vote.  In 2010 approximately 47 percent of all Cuyahoga County ballots were cast before Election Day in conformance with existing state law.  Our local efforts were so successful that the Board of Elections has been able to decrease the total number of precincts and voting sites by 26 percent since 2008, thereby saving board resources, while having a more organized and better trained staff for conducting elections.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Auditor of Ohio State David Yost have now made statements and demands which we think threaten to confuse and potentially dissuade voter turnout and participation.  Secretary of State Husted at one point last week implied that absentee ballots requested in Cuyahoga County through the county’s early vote program might not be sent to voters. Thankfully, he has since retracted these statements. Auditor Yost has publicly demanded that the county account for spending on the program and specifically cite the authority for it being able to do so, even though it is fairly well-developed law that counties in Ohio have broad authority to spend money where they are not explicitly prohibited from doing so.  Auditor Yost’s threats are irresponsible and imply that making Election Day less chaotic is somehow a crime.  

We have two very contentious elections coming up in the next two years.  In 2011, there is a statewide referendum election on Senate Bill 5, which is the attack on public sector collective bargaining in Ohio.  In 2012, we have the Presidential election in which Ohio is always a battleground state.  We want to make sure that every voter is allowed to participate and their vote counted.  We believe Husted and Yost’s comments and actions raise questions and create controversy where none exists.  We are concerned that these comments by state elected officials may have an adverse impact on voter confidence in the elections. While at this point we do not ask for any formal participation from the Department of Justice, we are concerned enough about these statements and their potential impacts to call them to your attention in the event that further statements or actions may necessitate a request for formal action.         

The right to vote is one of the most precious in our democracy and it is imperative that this is not jeopardized in the state of Ohio.  We stand ready to assist in any capacity deemed necessary.

Sincerely,

Nickie Antonio
State Representative
13th District

Armond Budish
Minority Leaeder of the House
8th District

Mike Foley
State Representative
14th District

Mike Skindell
State Senator
23rd District

Nina Turner
State Senator
25th District

Sandra Williams
State Representative
11th District

“What’s wrong with the reapportionment process”

As the Apportionment Board met in field hearings across the state last week news media across the state have been covering this process. The Toledo Blade editorial board called last week’s hearings “little more than an exercise in failed public relations.” Excerpts of the Blade editorial “Remapping Ohio” follow:

“Ohioans finally have a map that shows how the boundaries of state legislative districts can be redrawn to make them more compact and competitive. The map didn’t come from the state panel that is charged with redistricting the General Assembly.

“The Republican-dominated board isn’t likely even to acknowledge the map’s existence. That’s what’s wrong with the reapportionment process.

“Once a decade, the Ohio Apportionment Board adjusts legislative districts to account for population shifts identified in the U.S. Census. Typically, whichever party — Republican or Democratic — has a board majority uses that advantage to draw districts to gain seats in the state House and Senate.

“This year, four of the five board members are Republicans: Gov. John Kasich, Secretary of State Jon Husted, Auditor Dave Yost, and Senate President Tom Niehaus (R., New Richmond). House Minority Leader Armond Budish (D., Beachwood) is the only Democrat.

“Among the Republicans, only Mr. Husted has expressed interest in making the process less partisan. Mr. Budish proposed several rule changes designed to expand public participation and make the process more transparent and less partisan. Republicans rejected them.

“The apportionment board just completed hearings across the state that offered the illusion of public input. But without even a tentative map to display, the hearings were little more than an exercise in failed public relations.

“Gerrymandering districts to maximize the political clout of either party is bad for democracy. It polarizes voters and encourages lawmakers to govern from the extremes rather than to seek consensus and compromise in the middle.

“When that happens at the state level, the result is the all-or-nothing partisan battle that surrounds Senate Bill 5. At the federal level, you get a minority of Republican lawmakers nearly pushing the nation into default in the debt-ceiling debate. That resulted in the first-ever downgrade of America’s credit rating.

“Into the state’s breach stepped the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting, a coalition of good-government groups including the Ohio League of Women Voters, Ohio Citizen Action, and Common Cause. They sponsored a contest that asked the public to draw redistricting maps that would enhance partisan competition, split as few counties and communities as possible, and reflect the true political makeup of the state.

“It turns out that creating legislative districts that strengthen the two-party system and encourage reasonable political debate isn’t difficult, once the politics are removed.

“The top-scoring map was drawn by Mike Fortner, a Republican state representative — from Illinois…”

 Read the full editorial here.

Dem Leaders Push To Make Maps Public

Ohio House Democratic Leader Armond Budish and Ohio Senate Democratic Leader Carpi Cafaro announced that they will be introducing companion legislation that would require the Apportionment Board to make new state legislative district maps available for public and board input in advance of the required approval deadline.

“Public input should not be ignored in the important process of drawing new state legislative districts,” said Budish.  “If the process continues as it currently is, the public will have almost no opportunity to provide input about how their communities might be carved up and who their representative might be.”

This week, the Apportionment Board is conducting field hearings throughout the state, but no maps are available for discussion and public participation has been limited.  Hearings in Toledo, Lima, Cleveland and Akron produced few witnesses and no one showed up to testify in yesterday’s Canton hearing.

“It’s just common sense that the time for meaningful input is after proposed maps have been released to the public rather than before,” said Senator Cafaro.  “Otherwise, we end up with hearings that are a public relations exercise instead of constructive dialogue.  Clearly this process must change so we have a more responsive and less partisan government.”  

Previously, Budish proposed six rule changes in the first meeting of the Apportionment Board, including allowing for public input and feedback through field hearings once actual maps had been produced and not just on the process of Apportionment as this week’s field hearings do.  He also sought to require the board to rank plans according to compliance with the Ohio constitution, federal law, and any objective criteria the Board saw fit.  All six rule changes were rejected along party lines.

The proposed legislation would require maps to be made public three weeks before the boards deadline to approve a plan. It would also require four hearings throughout the state for public input once maps have been presented and made public.

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Rep. Clyde Criticizes Latest Attempt to Thwart Referendum

State Rep. Kathleen Clyde raised concerns over Secretary of State Husted’s directive to prohibit county boards of elections from mailing out absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters.

 “This is yet another overreach that has become common practice of the Ohio Republican leadership.  Secretary Husted’s directive is a blatant attack on the citizens’ right of referendum clearly outlined by the Ohio constitution.  Secretary Husted supported an ill-conceived elections law that passed without any bipartisan support and is now trying to rescue some of its provisions from a referendum effort by concerned citizens around the state.” 

House Bill 194 would drastically change Ohio’s elections laws and included a prohibition on mailing absentee ballot applications to all registered voters, a practice used in large counties to cut down on Election Day costs. A petition drive is underway to place HB 194 on the Nov. 2012 ballot as a referendum. This would halt the implementation of the bill until the voters decide. Secretary Husted’s directive is an attempt to skirt this possible referendum. 

 “This repeated claim of needing policies that create uniformity is disingenuous.  These policies will actually create huge disparities on Election Day.  We shouldn’t require counties with over one million people to use the same practices as counties with only 13,000 people.  We don’t require Cuyahoga County with more than 1,000 precincts to limit itself to just 20 precincts because that’s what Vinton County has,” Rep. Clyde said. “I am very disappointed in Secretary Husted’s decision that will hurt Ohio voters.”

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MUST READ: Youngstown Vindicator “Ohio Republicans are to blame for partisan tone in Columbus”

The Youngstown Vindicator took Ohio Republicans to task for their rampant partisanship and hypocrisy since taking control of state government, suggesting that Gov. John Kasich and other GOP leaders should “begin listening to the Democratic opposition.” Excerpts from the Vindicator editorial follow:

“Ohio Gov. John Kasich, President of the Senate Tom Niehaus and speaker of the House Bill Batchelder, all Republicans, are either very good actors, or are politically naive. Given the results of last November’s statewide election in which Republicans swept all the offices, naivety is not an apt characterization of the three leaders. Therefore, we can only conclude that their expressions of surprise Friday at the absence of the heads of the state’s top public-employee unions to discuss the new collective bargaining law — commonly called Senate Bill 5 — was just an act.

“…It is ironic that the word negotiations is being kicked around now, when it certainly doesn’t apply to the process the Republicans adopted to ram through the bill that strips the more than 300,000 public employees of some of their collective bargaining rights that have been on the books for more than two decades.

“Indeed, a Democratic state legislator who has received high-praise from the governor for her willingness to work with the GOP majority on key measures had this say about the negotiating session: ‘Governor Kasich and Republicans in the General Assembly have finally admitted that Senate Bill 5 went too far. If they thought they could destroy collective bargaining in Ohio and get away with it, they have been proven wrong. More than one million Ohioans have already sent a strong message that Senate Bill 5 should be repealed.

“’The time to negotiate was during the legislative process, not 197 days after Senate Bill 5 was first introduced in the Ohio Senate. Unfortunately, it has taken too long for the Governor and GOP leaders to acknowledge they overreached.’

“State Minority Leader Capri Cafaro, D-Hubbard, and members of her caucus were ignored when the collective bargaining reform bill was being developed. When it became law with Gov. Kasich’s signature, the public-employees unions, along with the state Democratic Party, decided to put the measure up to a vote of the people of Ohio in the November general election. The petition drive for the referendum was a rousing success, and polls consistently show that SB 5 would be rejected if the election were held today.

“Kasich and the Republican controlled General Assembly now find themselves having to reach out to the opponents of the new law. They should not be surprised that their invitation to negotiate has been turned down.

“Ever since the GOP took control of state government in January, partisanship has been the order of the day in Columbus.”

Read the full editorial here.

MUST READ: Toledo Blade “Focus on the voters”

During Monday’s Apportionment Board field hearing at the University of Toledo, witnesses and  Rep. Clyde highlighted the need for a fair and open process as the Republican-controlled Board redraws the boundaries of General Assembly districts. Excerpts from the Toledo Blade article by Tom Troy follow:

“A witness urged the Ohio Apportionment Board Monday in Toledo to redraw state House districts that are based on ‘compactness’ and ‘competitiveness,’ rather than on maximizing incumbent re-election chances.

“Catherine Turcer, director of the Ohio Citizen Action’s Money in Politics Project… called for more competitive districts that reflect the state’s relatively even distribution of Democrats and Republicans, instead of devising districts just to maximize the number of Republican-controlled House seats.

“’…I’m here to encourage you to focus on the voters rather than focusing on outcomes,’ Ms. Turcer said.

“Ms. Turcer thanked the board for its traveling hearings, but a couple of Democrats criticized the value of the meetings because no proposed maps have been published yet.

“‘This is a combination of a farce and a joke,’ said state Rep. Dennis Murray (D., Sandusky) of the 80th House district… They’re having a hearing before there’s anything to talk about.’

“State Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D., Kent), a stand-in for apportionment board member Armond Budish (D., Beachwood), said the lack of maps rendered the hearings somewhat pointless.

“’This process I think is antiquated and kind of contrary to the will of the people,’ Ms. Clyde said. ‘I’m in the House, which is supposed to be the people’s house, but it doesn’t seem to reflect the will of the people. I just think the process stinks and Ohio deserves better. There’s no reason we shouldn’t have maps right now. The data’s been available since April.’

…”

Read the full article here.

Budish Encourages Leaders to Reconvene Legislature and Repeal SB 5

Ohio House Democratic Leader Armond Budish (D- Beachwood) called on legislative leaders to convene the General Assembly next week to repeal Senate Bill 5 and take the serious first step to finding a compromise solution.  Budish also instructed the Legislative Service Commission to begin drafting repeal legislation, which is expected to be ready for consideration early next week.

“If Gov. Kasich and Republican legislative leaders are serious about compromising on Senate Bill 5, they will take the first necessary step and reconvene the legislature to completely repeal this bill,” said Budish. “Upon the complete legislative repeal of SB 5, we can then begin to do what should have been done 8 months ago, and have an open and honest discussion with those affected by these proposed law changes.”

Senate Bill 5 was passed into law earlier this year with bipartisan opposition and heavy criticism in an extraordinarily controversial process.  In addition to shutting out stakeholders and interested parties, the process also exploited legislative rules to remove members from committees that would not support this legislation. Final changes to the bill were made behind closed doors which added several hundred pages to the bill. Democrats were then forced to vote on the measure with little opportunity for review.

“I’m pleased that Gov. Kasich and Republican legislative leaders recognize that this is a flawed bill, but asking for a compromise without taking the first concrete step to repeal this bill is disingenuous,” said Budish.  “Given the very limited time frame, I’m concerned that their request to meet is more of a publicity stunt than a sincere effort to reach common-ground.”

The deadline to remove the Senate Bill 5 referendum from the Nov. 8 ballot is August 30, less than two weeks away.  Leader Budish indicated his willingness to work together to get members back to Columbus and support repeal efforts. 

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