Ohio Democrats work hard to stop early voting bill from taking effect

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The deadline is nearing for Ohio Democrats to repeal an early voting bill.

Democrats need to gather more than 230,000 signatures by this Friday to repeal House Bill 194. It would shrink the state's early voting period.

Right now, the window for in-person voting is 35 days before election day. With the new law, it would drop to 17 days. The window for absentee voting by mail would shrink from 35 days to 21. The cuts also eliminate the five-day period where new voters could both register and cast a ballot on the same day.

Supporters of the bill say the change is needed to set uniform standards throughout the state, but on the other side, opponents say the bill limits minority and elderly votes.

Some local democrats are confident they have more than enough of these petitions to repeal the law. If that's the case, it would block the new rules from being put in place until after the election in 2012.

Workers with President Obama's re-election campaign are busy ensuring enough signatures reach Columbus to stop HB194.

"We regard it as a voter suppression bill," said Caleb Faux, Executive Director for the Hamilton County Democratic Party.

Faux said volunteers delivered 10,000 signatures on Monday alone, and have been delivering thousands of other signatures for the last few weeks.

Faux said it's an issue of access.

About 30-percent of Ohio's total vote, or 1.7 million ballots, were cast during the early voting period in 2008. It's impossible to tell how many went to President Obama, but early voting is perceived to benefit Democrats since it could allow Hispanics, blacks, new citizens and the working poor to vote. However, local Republican leaders said that early voting works both ways so the new law is about being fair.

"In 2010 it helped Republicans," said Alex Triantafilou, Chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party. "In 2008, it helped Democrats. At the end of the day, it's the elected officials and the politicians who drive votes, not the way we keep the polls open."

Triantafilou said Democrats' efforts to repeal the law are just a political ploy.

"You know, the Democrats are trying to subvert the will of our elected officials by putting everything on the ballot, and we're going to go the way of California soon which is going to be that we're going to have a referendum on every issue, and that stalls out government; that stalls out progress; We're opposed to it."

Still, Democrats said the right to vote early for longer is worth the fight.

"Actually, the way Jerry Springer put it the other way was very eloquent," said Faux. "We send people to Iraq to fight for the rights of people in Iraq, to be able to defend them, and then we turn around and here try to make it more difficult for people to vote. What kind of sense does that make?"

If the law is repealed, absentee voting would start October 4th, but under the new law, it would be pushed back to October 20th. That would give the Board of Elections about a week to figure everything out.

Ohio is one of 32 states that allow voters to cast an early ballot by mail or in person without an excuse.

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