COLUMBUS -- Gov. John Kasich has signed controversial GOP-backed election legislation into law, despite calls from Democrats to veto the measures.
The move came two days after the Ohio House and Senate gave their final approval to SB 205 and SB 238 and over the objections of Democratic lawmakers, who pledged to file suit to stop the bills from taking effect.
The signings took place in private. Rob Nichols, the governor's spokesman, said bringing uniformity to absentee voting is reasonable, and Ohioan's still have more days to vote early in person that most of the rest of the country.
"Even after we signed that bill, we still have more early voting days in Ohio than 40 other states," he said.
Senate Bill 238 calls for early in-person voting to begin the day after voter registration ends, reducing the absentee ballot period by a week and eliminating Ohio's so-called "golden week," when residents could register to vote and cast ballots on the same day.
SB 205 permits the secretary of state to send absentee ballots to all voters while prohibiting other public officials from doing the same.
It also calls for rejection of absentee ballots that don't include specified information, including a signature and certain forms of identification. Affected voters will have until seven days after an election to fix their incomplete or incorrect submissions.
Both bills will not take effect until after the May primary.
Proponents have said the changes are needed to give county elections officials time to verify voters' eligibility before they are allowed to cast ballots. The absentee ballot changes, they add, will ensure all Ohio voters are treated the same when requesting and casting early ballots.
"Republicans believe every vote should matter and that all citizens should have the same access to the ballot box, while Democrats look to set up a voting system for their partisan advantage," Chris Schrimpf, spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, said in a released statement. "It is a shame that Democrats oppose what were bipartisan reforms that would make sure all Ohioans are on an equal playing field, while making it harder to cheat."
But opponents say the legislation is a further attempt to limit early voting and make it harder for eligible residents to cast ballots.
House Democrats filed a formal protest against the bills Friday, saying Republican leaders of the chamber limited debate and blocked minor party amendments.
State Rep. Chris Redfern, who also serves as chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said during the floor debate that legal challenges would be filed if the bills were signed into law.
And Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who hopes to unseat Kasich in November, said he has asked his county legal counsel to review the bills in preparation for potential lawsuits.
"These restrictions... are outrageous, unnecessary and totally motivated by a desire to make it tougher to vote...," he said. "I think it's voter suppression, clear and simple."