COLUMBUS -- Backers of a constitutional amendment that would expand early voting hours and potentially lead to more provisional ballots being counted have been given the green light to begin collecting signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine signed off on the proposed Ohio Voters Bill of Rights earlier this week, and the Ohio Ballot Board certified the issue as one amendment Thursday. Both signoffs were required before petitions on the issue could be circulated.
State Rep. Alicia Reece, D-Cincinnati, one of the petitioners behind the amendment, said training would begin in coming days for volunteers, with hopes of gathering the 385,000-plus signatures required to place the issue before voters this November.
"We will be on the streets this weekend getting petitions collected," said Reece, who also heads the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus. She added, "We're one step closer to the citizens having a say on their voting rights and making sure it's protected in the constitution. ... Our goal is the ballot this year, this November."
Among other provisions, the amendment spells out how eligible residents could register and when they could vote, extending early in-person voting over the final two weekends before a general election and attempting to ensure more challenged ballots would be counted.
The amendment would counter Republican-backed legislation signed into law in recent weeks that proponents say will bring uniformity to the state's election laws and ensure only those eligible to vote cast ballots.
Opponents, however, say the law changes will make it harder for the elderly, disabled, low-income and other Ohioans to participate in elections.
Thursday's Ballot Board decision came after several questions from one Republican member of the panel, who pressed legal counsel for the amendment backers about language related voter ID, provisional ballots and early voting hours and whether those issues should be presented to voters separately.
Attorney Don McTigue responded that the package should be taken as a whole, later comparing the proposed amendment to a tapestry.
"This is, again, part of a package dealing with voting opportunities, voting rights," McTigue said. "There's not a basis for separating it out just because of some prior litigation regarding one aspect. ... (The provisions are) interwoven. Each of those divisions deals with one aspect of voting rights."