Ohio Governor Vetoes Legislation Requiring Bonds for Poll Extension Requests


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Back in April, I wrote about a bill moving through the Ohio Legislature that would require anyone asking a state court to extend polling hours to post a cash bond to cover the potential cost.

That bill reached Governor John Kasich last Friday – and he used a rare veto to block its passage. Darrel Rowland of the Columbus Dispatch has more:

Gov. John Kasich vetoed a bill today that Democrats likened to a poll tax.

Kasich didn’t come close to using those words, but he nixed the measure because it would have required anyone requesting an extension of Election Day polling hours to post a bond equivalent to what the additional time would cost the state. If a court overturned the extension, whoever filed the request would forfeit the bond, which could easily total tens of thousands of dollars.

Kasich noted that Ohio judicial rules already allow judges to require bonds.

“Prohibiting state court judges from exercising their discretion to waive the bond requirement in only these types of cases is inequitable and might deter persons from seeking an injunction to allow after-hours voting when there may be a valid reason for doing so,” the governor said in his veto message.

While he agrees with most of the measure, “The bill’s provision that eliminates the judicial discretion to waive the bond is a step too far, however, and should not become law,” Kasich wrote.

It was the second veto by Kasich of a bill passed by the legislature, dominated by his fellow Republicans. The other was a proposal to allow water to be drained from Lake Erie for bottled water companies.

In April 2015, Kasich levied a line-item veto on an item tucked into the state transportation budget that would have required out-of-state residents who register to vote in Ohio to obtain an Ohio driver’s license and vehicle registration within 30 days.

Not surprisingly, the bill’s sponsor was not happy – and said so:

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Bill Seitz, blasted Kasich’s action.

“In vetoing Senate Bill 296, the governor has subordinated the interests of Ohio taxpayers and poll workers to the interests of those who want to game Election Day voting hours for political purposes,” the Cincinnati Republican said in a release.

Seitz questioned Kasich’s statement that current judicial rules allow bond requirement to be waived, “although rogue judges have ignored the plain language of the rule and done so.” The senator said his bill simply makes it explicit that bond cannot be waived unless the person asking for a poll-hours extension is indigent. If that’s the case, the bond requirement is automatically waived, which actually is more generous than the current rule, Seitz said.

Democratic opponents of the bill hailed the veto:

“Today’s veto stops a harmful bill that would have acted as a poll tax on the most vulnerable Ohioans,” said state Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, one of those who sought the veto. “Emergencies happen and our officials need the ability to respond to ensure access to the polls.”

“It was the right decision. It would have led to another costly losing lawsuit,” said Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper.

“It’s just great for the voters. And I’ll give him credit for that.”

Gov. Kasich isn’t closing the door to limiting poll extensions – and Ohio’s Secretary of State is offering to assist with a rewrite eliminating the problematic bonding requirements:

Kasich offered to work with lawmakers to craft an acceptable alternative to the latest voting bill.

“Given that Ohioans have ample opportunities to vote in the month before Election Day and for thirteen hours on Election Day itself, and given that Ohio law already requires that any voter in line when the polls close at 7:30 p.m. can still vote, there needs to be some extraordinary circumstance occurring on Election Day to justify disregarding Ohio law and allowing people to vote if they arrive at the polls after 7:30 p.m.,” he said in the veto message.

Secretary of State Jon Husted volunteered to be part of the rewrite as well. He also liked the bulk of the bill to create standards for state judicial involvement, but said the bond requirements have distracted from that goal.

“In both of the past two major election cycles, Ohioans have had to deal with last minute changes to the state’s election laws after judges have modified the rules, citing only politics, tweets and traffic jams as justification. These decisions came with little to no time for election officials to react, which adds the threat of chaos to otherwise well-run and smooth elections,” Husted said in a statement.

Don’t be surprised if the revised legislation moves quickly; poll extensions are a major source of friction in Ohio, especially after a recent case in March when a federal judge extended Cincinnati-area polls at the last minute because of reports of heavy traffic following a serious accident. It’s clear, though, that efforts to put a price tag on such requests in the form of bonds won’t fly.

I’ll be curious to see what standards, if any, emerge – and if those standards will influence federal courts considering such requests, given that they are neither bound by state rules nor subject to the authority of the state legislature.

It promises to be (yet another) reason to keep an eye on the Buckeye State as summer – and the general election cycle – heats up … stay tuned!

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