Ohio election officials scramble ahead of August vote on state constitution changes

voting stories, ohio election officials scramble ahead of august vote on state constitution changes

Supporters and opponents of a GOP-backed measure that would make it harder to amend the Ohio Constitution packed the Statehouse rotunda on May 10 in Columbus. That measure is set for an August special election. Samantha Hendrickson/AP hide caption

toggle caption Samantha Hendrickson/AP

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Aubrey Fox has worked the last eight elections as a poll worker in Lakewood, a suburb west of Cleveland.

“It’s something I do on a couple of vacation days a year,” Fox said. “I just love being part of democracy.”

But Fox says she plans to boycott working a recently announced special election planned for August, a decision that was a turnaround for Republican state lawmakers.

“I just feel it’s wrong, and I don’t want to participate,” Fox said.

The August election has also drawn opposition from local election officials. A GOP-backed state law that took effect in April made a number of changes to voting, including banning most August special elections. But on May 10, Republican lawmakers approved a statewide vote this upcoming August to decide on a resolution to make it harder to amend the Ohio Constitution.

Republicans want voters to raise the threshold for approving future amendments to the Ohio Constitution from a simple majority to 60%, before a possible November ballot measure to codify abortion rights in the constitution. A group of doctors and citizens is currently gathering signatures to put an abortion rights amendment on the November ballot.

The resolution that would be decided in August would also make it significantly harder for groups to get onto the ballot in the future by requiring signatures from every county in the state, not half the counties as is law now.

The move to hold an August special election has infuriated Democrats, who are in the minority in the legislature, and brought hundreds of people to the Ohio Statehouse to protest.

Now local boards of elections are trying to find venues for voting that may no longer be available and recruiting tens of thousands of poll workers during a time when many people are on vacation.

“Already we have three polling locations that are normal polling locations for us that are just not going to be able to accommodate us because they already have booked other functions and we can’t bump those out,” said Jeff Rezabek, the director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections in Dayton and a former Republican state lawmaker.

Like others around the state, the 28 workers in Rezabek’s Dayton office are having to deal with changes in that new voting law, such as tougher voter ID rules and shorter timelines on absentee ballots. And they’re also preparing for the day after the August special election, which is the filing deadline for local candidates and issues for the November election.

The bipartisan group representing Ohio’s election officials is opposed to this August special election. Frankie DiCarlantonio is a Democratic member of the Jefferson County Board of Elections, which has six employees. He says those workers are tired of the constant change over the last few years.

“Elections officials are becoming tired of having to do this,” DiCarlantonio said. “I don’t want to make it seem like we’re going to crumble this year in terms of elections in Ohio. However, it is unfair to elections officials. We are going to see even more individuals probably exit this field because it provides, to be honest, a horrible quality of life for individuals. You don’t know about vacations. You don’t know about your hours of operation if you have an election versus if you don’t.”

Only a handful of elections officials have defied their statewide group and publicly said they support the August vote.

Tony Schroeder is with the board of elections in rural Putnam County in northwest Ohio. His office has only a couple of employees. But he said voters deserve to weigh in on this constitutional amendment change now.

“If the voters of Ohio, in their wisdom, decide to pass an increase in the threshold to amend the constitution, they will. And if they decide that they don’t want to, they’ll vote it down,” Schroeder said. “We give them the choice. That’s what I’m in favor of.”

The August vote is also backed by Ohio’s chief elections official, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who testified last year in favor of eliminating most August special elections. Since his reelection last fall, he’s been pushing for this increase in the constitutional approval threshold as he considers a run for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

The day after lawmakers voted to put the higher threshold amendment before voters, LaRose ordered boards of elections to get ready for that August vote. So poll workers are starting to get emails asking them if they’re available.

Sarah Riegel is in Franklin County in Columbus, where she’s been the voting manager at her polling place for years. And she’ll be there on Aug. 8.

“Just leaving aside my personal political opinions about this election and why it’s happening, if it has to happen, we want to make it go as smoothly as possible,” Riegel said. “So hopefully the board of elections and poll workers are able to, you know, throw something together before August.”

The August special election is facing a legal challenge in the Ohio Supreme Court. But already groups have started organizing their campaigns for and against the higher threshold ahead of what could be an important abortion access vote this fall.

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