Ohio House Bill 194 (HB 194), the elections law signed last July by Governor Kasich, has followed a tumultuous path: from the General Assembly, to the governor’s desk, to threatened referendum and now-likely repeal. As of this writing, House Bill 295, which would repeal nearly all provisions of HB 194, awaits Kasich’s signature.
The day after HB 194 was introduced, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted announced his opposition to a separate House bill requiring voters to present a photo ID. ”I believe that if you have a government-issued check, a utility bill in your name with your address on it, that no one made that up,” said Husted, although modern technology would make forging a utility bill a trivial task.
In comments that a Wall Street Journal editorial criticized as a moderate pose for the sake of gubernatorial aspirations, Husted also said he was “sensitive to the voices who believe that [House Bill 159] serves as an impediment to voters gaining access to the polls.” The photo ID bill has since stalled in the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate.
All photo ID requirements were removed from HB 194 soon after Husted voiced his disapproval. Nonetheless, with its reduced early voting windows and other restrictions on absentee voting — intended to prevent fraud and enforce uniformity across the 88 counties — HB 194 has been portrayed as a “voter suppression bill” by Democrats and left-wing activists.
Connie Schultz, wife of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and at the time a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, maligned Ohio Republicans in an editorial faintly supportive of Husted. “Husted has to rise above the dark legacy of his own party, which is currently full of state legislators willing to invent bogeymen to justify whittling away at essential human rights,” she wrote.
As the term is defined by Schultz and powerful left-wing groups, voting with minimal proof of identification during a weeks-long window is an “essential human right.” Despite the protestations of Schultz, the Ohio Education Association, union front group We Are Ohio, and others, there have been numerous signs voter fraud is occuring in Ohio — often orchestrated by national liberal groups.
At the end of June of 2011, news broke that Rep. Bob Mecklenborg, the Republican who introduced HB 194, had been arrested for drunk driving in Indiana months earlier. By late September of 2011, the Fair Elections Ohio campaign had submitted enough referendum petitions to delay the bill’s implementation.
In a January 2012 speech, Husted announced his support for repealing HB 194 in order to avoid the confusion a referendum would cause. Responding with frustration to Husted’s announcement, Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus (R) told The Columbus Dispatch, “We weren’t getting any communication back until I read the press release. I don’t know what the secretary of state thinks, because he didn’t bother to call.”
Ohio House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R) released his own statement, saying, “While this matter has been widely discussed by people interested in election laws, at this time there does not appear to be a consensus moving forward.” However, it became clear over the coming months some form of compromise would be sought by GOP leadership. By late March, the state Senate had passed a bill to repeal most of HB 194.
At the end of April, Governor Kasich publicly supported efforts in the legislature to strike a deal that would prevent a referendum. Although the House GOP delayed a vote in an apparent last-ditch effort to find middle ground, Democrats demanded that in-person “absentee” voting the weekend before the election — a restriction from HB 194 that is included in HB 295 — be reinstated. The final version of the new bill retains those restrictions, and thus received no Democrat votes.
With the HB 194 repeal on the governor’s desk, Fair Elections Ohio has announced its intention to “continue our fight for a true repeal of HB 194 and fight to preserve the right of a ‘people’s veto’ for Ohio voters.”