Leaders join forces to combat bill, make voter rights priorityWritten by Sanya Ali | | email@example.com
A group of politicians, civic and religious leaders is standing up to oppose a controversial bill they say limits the rights of Ohio voters.
At a news conference May 8, a group called Ohioans for a Voter Bill of Rights gave its point of view on the bill and proposed one of its own.
According to Toledo City Councilwoman Lindsay Webb, voters in Ohio are being unfairly treated by the political system. Her group hopes to change that.
“We want to make sure every citizen has the opportunity to vote, that they can cast a vote, and that they can have their vote counted,” Webb said. “That is the endgame.”
Webb said the issues within the current voting system started with the introduction of House Bill 194 in 2012.
“House Bill 194 basically took a number of, I would say, issues that have net effect of creating a chilling atmosphere,” Webb said. “It’s almost like a voter suppression act.”
House Bill 194 outlined a number of regulations to the voting system and gave the final decision on absentee and early voting dates, locations and times to the Secretary of State. Some of the rules, Webb said, seemed specifically designed to make voting more difficult for citizens in more rural areas.
Pastor Talmadge Thomas of City of Zion, the Mt. Zion Church, disagrees with the restrictive hours outlined in House Bill 194.
“The bill is very unfair and very unfriendly,” Thomas said.
Members of the community signed a petition against House Bill 194 at its conception, and the Ohio House of Representatives passed a referendum repealing the bill later that year.
Opponents of the bill rejoiced, Webb said, and felt the issue would need no further observation.
Webb said no sooner had the referendum passed than the bill slowly began to re-emerge. Bit by bit, the original resolutions went through the House. The content and goals of the legislation were the same as before, but the process was slowed to divert attention.
“What ended up happening then was that the majority in the statehouse began to pass HB 194 resolutions piecemeal,” Webb said. “Instead of having one gigantic repressive bill, they passed it piecemeal over the last one and a half or two years.”
Once the bill fully resurfaced, many Ohio politicians and community members fought back. State Representatives Alicia Reece and Vernon Sykes, along with John Smith and the Rev. Otis Moss, formed a committee to represent petitioners at the news conference. The new goal was no longer limited to stopping House Bill 194.
“They want to take certain things that people expect about voting and write it in a constitution,” Webb said. “Rather than have it subjected to will and whim of elected officials and Secretary of State.”
Thomas said a new bill of rights would be a step in the right direction in terms of proliferating the spirit of democracy in Ohio.
“It speaks to the heart of the original Voter Bill of Rights, giving people opportunity without being disenfranchised, without being inhibited,” Thomas said.
Webb said her experience as a clerk for the Lucas County Board of Elections during the 2000 presidential election campaign showed her how necessary proper vote counting is in a state with as much political leverage as Ohio.
“I have seen firsthand how chaotic these types of elections can be and, considering Ohio’s place in the federal election cycle, it’s important that we get it right,” Webb said.
Thomas said he feels a sense of confidence in voting. He said local elections are the necessary first step and perfecting that system will lead to better understanding of what the public wants.
“I really believe that this bill helps to promote democracy,” Thomas said. “It’s not about telling people who to vote for, that’s what we think is most important. I believe that local places are what really move the ball.”
Tags: City of Zion, Councilwoman Lindsay Webb, House Bill 194, John Smith, Mt. Zion Church, Ohio House of Representatives, Pastor Talmadge Thomas, Rev. Otis Moss, State Representative Alicia Reece, Vernon Sykes, Voter Bill of Rights