Both the Ohio Voter Bill of Rights coalition and The Ohio Coalition to End Qualified Immunity say Yost “is not following the law”
Daidi Yost & guy holding Stop Cheating Us sign

Ohio Attorney General David Yost – part of the state’s far-right GOP super majority – is deliberately blocking not one but two proposed constitutional amendments backed mostly by African American activists, they claim.

Ohio is the second most voter-purged state behind Georgia and has some of the worst gerrymandered district maps in the country. Many would think that any Statehouse would reverse such undemocratic practices, but this is Ohio, now a MAGA stronghold, which passed HB 458 and signed into law by Gov. DeWine in 2023. HB 458 enacted the nation’s strictest voter ID law and other provisions restricting voters.

Concerned the Ohio GOP is desperately trying to restrict African American voters, a coalition of civil rights groups is leading a grassroots effort to put the “Ohio Voters Bill of Rights” to a statewide vote, which they say would modernize Ohio’s election system with pro-voter policies, such as same-day voter registration and expanded early voting options and locations, among other provisions.

“We’ve been looking at doing these measures for 10 to 15 years now,” says Petee Talley, president of the Ohio Unity Coalition, which is part of the coalition. Other members include the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, Ohio NAACP and the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

“How do we enshrine in the constitution a guarantee that all Ohioans have the right to vote?” asks Talley. “If we can get fundamentally even that in the constitution then I think that we would have legal standing when we have to file lawsuits when we have gerrymandered districts or trying to get an additional ballot box in the community.”

Yost has blocked the Ohio Voters Bill of Rights coalition’s summary language twice, which is the first hurdle to get any citizen-led amendment on the ballot. Yost first rejected the amendment’s title, which the coalition changed. For the second rejection, he found fault with the amendment’s summary language, saying it is “highly misleading and misrepresentative.”

What can be so misleading as wanting more than one ballot drop box for absentee voting in every county, such as counties as populated and spread out as Franklin County? In April of 2023 Ohio’s GOP super majority made it law through HB 458 allowing only one drop box per county.

Coincidentally, Yost has used very similar logic to deny an amendment five different times that would end qualified immunity in Ohio if it were to pass. The Ohio Coalition to End Qualified Immunity (OCEQI) has spent countless hours and money to have Yost approve their summary ballot language. But Yost in rejecting their ballot summary several times, has stated their language is not a “fair and truthful summary of the proposed statute.”

“He’s not being impartial. He’s acting like a prosecutor who’s hiding evidence or a judge showing bias,” said OCEQI’s Cynthia Brown, who lost a nephew to Columbus police. “If Yost does this again our attorney will be filing a lawsuit for an emergency hearing to get on ballot in 2024. Because he’s shown a pattern of inventing stories of why this issue should not be on the ballot. He’s not following the law or is he doing his job.”

The Ohio Voter Bill of Rights coalition also wants an emergency hearing in front of the Ohio Supreme Court, filing a legal challenge to Yost’s rejection of their amendment’s summary.

Voter fraud is largely non-existent, practically a myth, but the GOP and of course Trump keep pushing this false bugaboo.

“By Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s own words, we have some of the most safe and secure elections in the country. His own admission,” said Talley. “So, we are not sure why they continue to erect these barriers that make it hard to vote, particularly in urban communities largely where black and brown Ohioans reside.”

If passed someday, the Ohio Voter Bill of Rights would:

• Allow unregistered people to register and vote on the same day during the early-voting period or on election day. This would apply to updating an existing registration as well. (Current law sets a deadline for registration several weeks before each election.)

• Add school-issued photo identification cards to the list of acceptable documents for proving ID.

• Allow people who don’t have a photo ID to vote by signing a “declaration under penalty of perjury attesting to their identity.”

• Allow everyone to vote by mail for any reason, with return postage paid by the state. The amendment would also require the state to create a system for tracking mail-in ballot applications and ballots so that voters can be notified if they’ve made a mistake in time to correct it.

• Permanently establish the days and hours for early voting, but also allow counties to offer more hours and multiple locations and as many 24-hour secure drop boxes as they deem necessary.

Some pundits have suggested low voter turnout in Ohio’s urban community’s is due to apathy. Talley and others say it’s not all about apathy, but more about GOP barriers.

“It has been in decline, in the last decade or two, primarily because of all these barriers that have been introduced in voting. It used to be you show up on election day and vote, and that was the end of it. You assumed your vote counted. But in the last couple of decades these barriers – whether it’s ID requirements or allowing only one drop box in a county – and it just seems like the state legislature is making it harder for people to vote,” she said.