Funding cut threat for absentee ballots eliminated

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Counties that mail out absentee
ballots in violation of state law will no longer face the threat of
losing funding after a committee in the GOP-led Ohio House removed
language from Gov. John Kasich’s midterm budget Tuesday following strong
pushback from both Democrats and Republicans.
House Finance
Chairman Ron Amstutz announced the House Finance Committee’s plans hours
before Cuyahoga County Council voted Tuesday night to assert home rule
powers and mail unsolicited absentee ballots to voters if the state
doesn’t.
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, a Democratic
candidate for governor, cited the budget amendment in his request
Tuesday for a federal investigation into whether laws signed recently by
Kasich are intended to suppress Democratic and minority votes. The
budget amendment would have stripped 10 percent of local government
funding from any county that circumvents state ballot distribution
rules.
Both Kasich and Secretary of State Jon Husted spoke out against the funding sanctions and urged fellow
Republicans to remove it.
In
his letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney
Steven Dettelbach, FitzGerald said the county had put several laws in
place to reach a population heavy with renters, transient residents and
the homeless. That included same-day registration and voting, expanded
weekday and weekend hours, and mailed absentee applications complete
with postage-paid envelopes.
He said it was important for the county to take action.
"This
is hardball politics at its most cynical and crass, and we are in a
position, fortunately, to stand up to the power of the state,"
FitzGerald told the county council, which passed his plan on an 8-3
vote.
Under Ohio law, all voters will receive absentee ballots in the mail ahead of the November general
election, Husted said.
"There’s
no reason for Cuyahoga County to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars
and violate the state law for a service that’s already being provided,"
he said. "Having said that, it’s no reason to cut the local government
fund and penalize the people there for the actions of their leaders."
Kasich told reporters after an event in Lockbourne that he didn’t support legislative efforts to penalize
Cuyahoga County.
"We
don’t support that," the Columbus Dispatch quoted Kasich as saying. "I
just don’t think you use the local government fund — it’s not there to
be used like that. I just think it was not a well-conceived idea."
FitzGerald announced the investigation at a Cleveland news conference.
"As
a former FBI agent, this is not a decision that I make lightly, but a
thorough investigation is clearly warranted to examine the recent
actions that would make it harder for working men and women to vote in
2014," FitzGerald said.
With nearly 1.3 million residents,
Cuyahoga County is home to about 11 percent of Ohio’s population. About a
third of residents are black and a majority Democrat.
Husted defended the uniform voting hours that Ohio has put in place across the state.
"The
state law, federal court rulings and common sense dictate that all
voters should vote by the same set of rules," he said. "That’s the
definition of equality. It’s not ‘Animal Farm’: Some people are more
equal than others."
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Associated Press writers Ann Sanner and Kantele Franko contributed to this report.
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