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A new Ohio state law complicates local preparations for August voting


Ohio election officials are getting prepared for an August special election they didn't anticipate - after all, just last month, a state law took effect that banned most of them. At issue in August is whether to make it harder to amend the state constitution. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports on the problems election officials are running into in getting ready for this vote.

KAREN KASLER, BYLINE: Aubrey Fox likes being a poll worker in Lakewood, a suburb west of Cleveland. She's worked the last eight elections in Ohio.

AUBREY FOX: It's something I do on a couple of vacation days a year. I just love being part of democracy.

KASLER: But she's not working the special election planned for August which was approved by state lawmakers May 10.

FOX: I am going to boycott this one. I just feel it's wrong, and I don't want to participate.

KASLER: That statewide summer vote is for just one issue. Republicans want voters to raise the threshold for approving future amendments to Ohio's constitution from a simple majority to 60% before a possible November ballot issue to codify abortion rights in the Constitution. The fact that this August election is happening at all is a turnaround for state Republicans. A GOP-backed law that took effect in April made a number of changes to voting including banning most August special elections. Now boards of elections are recruiting tens of thousands of poll workers during a time when many people are on vacation and trying to find venues for voting that may no longer be available.

JEFF REZABEK: 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.

KASLER: Jeff Rezabek is the director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections in Dayton and a Republican former state lawmaker. That new voting law also requires elections workers to manage tougher voter ID rules and shortens the timeline on absentee ballots. The bipartisan group representing Ohio's elections 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.

FRANKIE DICARLANTONIO: I don't want to make it seem like, you know, 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.

KASLER: Only a handful of elections officials have defied their statewide group and publicly said they support the August vote, which is also backed by Ohio's chief elections officer, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose. He's ordered boards of elections to get ready for the vote. So poll workers are starting to get emails asking them to work. 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 August 8.

SARAH RIEGEL: Just leaving aside my personal political opinions about this election and why it's happening - if it has to happen, I want to make it go as smoothly as possible. So hopefully the Board of Elections and poll workers are able to, you know, throw something together before August.

KASLER: 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. For NPR News, I'm Karen Kasler in Columbus.


Karen Kasler (Ohio Public Radio)
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