Ohio Governor John Kasich believes you have plenty of time to vote prior to election day and on election day itself, so Friday he vetoed Senate Bill 296, legislation to specify requirements for lawsuits concerning election procedures, to specify the conditions under which a court may order that a polling place be kept open for extended hours on the day of an election and to require a person who votes during those extended hours to cast a provisional ballot.
“We had gone to the district meeting (Ohio Boards of Education) and they briefly talked about it,” Scioto County Board of Elections Director Julia Gearheart said. “Sometimes on election night, we’ll get a call from the secretary of state and they’ll say – ‘you can’t release the results because this county has to extend their voting hours till 9 o’clock (p.m.).’”
Gearheart said in certain situations such as what has happened in the past, a car wreck on the highway, kept voters from getting to the polling place on time, resulting in a judge ordering the extension. Gearheart said, when that occurred, “every county in Ohio was not allowed to release the results and I think (with SB 296) they were trying to stop that.”
Kasich cited Article II, Section 16, of the Ohio Constitution, which states that the governor may disapprove of any bill, so he chose to execute that option and disapprove of SB 296.
“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,” Kasich said.
Kasich said he agrees with the requirements in this bill, that injunctions allowing people to vote if they arrive at the polls after 7:30 p.m., should be issued by the courts only if the secretary of state and the attorney general have been notified of the request for the injunction and have had an opportunity to be heard by the judge; the judge’s decision is based on admissible evidence submitted under oath and not an inadmissible hearsay or unconfirmed media reports; it is clear that a fair election cannot be had in the absence of an order keeping the polls open past 7:30 p.m. and there is an immediate appellate review of the trial court’s decision.
This bill also requires the party seeking the injunction to obtain a bond, but the Ohio Supreme Court’s rules governing civil lawsuits have always provided for the possibility of a bond in any lawsuit seeking an injunction. Rule 65(C) provides that:
No temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction is operative until the party obtaining it gives a bond… in an amount fixed by the court or judge allowing it, to secure to the party enjoined the damages he may sustain, if it is finally decided that the order or injunction should not have been granted.
Under the Rule, judges have wide discretion to set the amount of the bond and can even waive the bond requirement altogether.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted responded to Kasich’s decision.
“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. “While Senate Bill 296 works to create an appropriate jurisdictional standard for last minute judicial involvement, other parts of the legislation have distracted from that goal. I spoke with the governor and respect his decision to veto the bill. I will gladly work with him and the legislature to find a way to address last minute changes to our voting laws by state judges.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.