COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio lawmakers in the Senate introduced a bill Thursday that would repeal a new law overhauling the state's election process, ignoring warnings of a backlash from a coalition that wants to put the repeal question to a popular vote in November.
The law targeted for referendum by Fair Elections Ohio would shorten the early voting period in the presidential battleground state and make a host of other election changes. It has been on hold since September, pending the referendum vote this fall.
The coalition of labor, clergy and some Democrats said at a news conference earlier Thursday that they will oppose any parts of the law that the legislature moves to preserve between now and the Nov. 6 election. The group threatened to mount a second signature drive against any replacement bill and to pursue litigation.
But Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus said elements of the challenged law need to be made available to Ohio voters in 2012, while other issues can wait until after the election. He said he hopes to involve both parties in new legislation, a sentiment met with skepticism by some Democrats.
Niehaus said concern over the law prompted a group of legislators to begin studying replacement measures months ago. He said legislators want to see some of the sweeping changes available to Ohioans in this year's elections.
"I recognize that partisan supporters of the referendum are now arguing against a repeal after publicly supporting the idea," he said in a statement. "I'm left to assume they've been ordered by partisan operatives to reverse their position and keep this on the ballot in an effort to incite their base of supporters in a presidential election."
He called on the group to "put aside the hyper-partisan press conferences and join us in discussing a responsible compromise."
At the news conference, Fair Elections Ohio responded also to Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted's proposal last month that the election law be scrapped so that it won't appear on the fall ballots. Husted said the referendum campaign to repeal the law would confuse voters just as state officials were trying to educate them on voting rules. He called for working on a new bill after the Nov. 6 election.
Fair Elections leader Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat who preceded Husted as secretary of state, said legislators are trying to make an end run around the state constitution.
"The fact that we have achieved this referendum, we have achieved consistent election procedures for Ohioans in 2012, and this really allows Ohioans to comply with the same rules from the last presidential election, this needs to be left alone," she said. "When you have a referendum, it is a right that is reserved to the people under the constitution."
State Rep. Sandra Williams, leader of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, said that her group was rebuffed during the process that led to passage of the law last year and that Republicans have not approached any Democrats in the legislature to discuss the new bill to repeal it.
"This, to me, was just an effort to attack low-income and African American voters in the state," she said. "Also, as you all know, this state is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, and I don't understand how anybody can believe it's fair to have a one-sided approach to anything dealing with voter and election laws."
Brian Rothenberg, executive director of the liberal policy group ProgressOhio, said labor unions that came out in force to overturn collective bargaining restrictions last year remain energized and will campaign against any provisions of the challenged law that legislators preserve before the election. He said President Barack Obama's re-election campaign also is well-organized in the state and will help fight efforts to place what he called "voter suppression tactics" into law ahead of Election Day.
Rothenberg blasted the GOP-controlled legislature for what he said were continued efforts to rewrite election laws.
"I would like nothing better than to never have to stand in this room talking about legislators taking away people's right to vote because, quite frankly, it's tiring," he said. "It's morally wrong. It's ethically wrong, and I don't care what party you represent here in this legislature, it's not what you were sent here to do."
Fair Elections Ohio: http://www.fairelectionsohio.com
Ohio Senate: http://www.ohiosenate.gov