COLUMBUS -- A contentious new election law was on track to being repealed in the presidential battleground state of Ohio after a bill to rescind the law cleared the Legislature on Tuesday, as Republicans thwarted an effort brought by Democrats and others to have the law tossed out by voters this fall.
Instead, GOP Gov. John Kasich is expected to sign the repeal bill.
The overhaul law has been on hold since September. That's when the Fair Elections Ohio campaign had gathered more than 300,000 valid signatures from Ohioans to get a referendum on Nov. 6 ballots to ask voters whether they wanted to repeal it.
"Why not let the voters vote?" state Rep. Matt Lundy, an Elyria Democrat, asked his Republican colleagues. "This is a very bad idea."
The Republican-controlled House passed the measure on a 54-42 vote Tuesday, sending it to Kasich. The GOP-dominated Senate approved the measure on a party-line vote in March.
Among other changes, the overhaul law trims the swing state's in-person early voting window from 35 days before Election Day to 17 days, and the period for absentee voting by mail from 35 days to 21. It also cuts off in-person early voting on the Friday evening before Election Day.
Supporters of the repeal measure contend it would have same effect as voting opting to toss out the law this fall. They say repealing the bill and getting rid of the referendum would also save taxpayers almost $1 million.
But the repeal bill also would reaffirm a technical change made last year in a separate bill that resulted in early voting ending on the weekend before the election.
Democrats and Fair Elections Ohio want those final days of in-person voting restored. Otherwise, they say the bill is not a "clean" repeal and would not effectively give voters the same voting options they had before the overhaul bill's passage.
Rep. Lou Blessing, a Cincinnati Republican, said local election officials asked the Legislature to end early voting on the Friday evening before Election Day, so they had time to prepare for the election.
"That's going to be the law no matter what we do with (the overhaul)," Blessing said.
House leaders had delayed a vote on the repeal bill for almost two weeks in an effort to try to strike a compromise with opponents of the law, but none had been reached by Tuesday.
Jennifer Brunner, a leader in the Fair Elections Ohio campaign and a former Democratic secretary of state, said the group was willing to withdraw its referendum petition if lawmakers repealed the overhaul and restored the final days of voting. She said in an interview Monday evening that it didn't matter precisely how that was accomplished legislatively.
But, Brunner said, "we're not seeing a real clear consensus in the Legislature to do the simple things that we've asked them to do."
Passage came after a politically charged debate in the House that reflected the high stakes nature of a presidential election year.
No Republican presidential nominee has reached the White House without carrying the swing state. President Barack Obama won Ohio in 2008, after the state went for George W. Bush in 2004.
House Speaker William Batchelder has expressed reservations about the repeal. He has said there is no precedent for a legislative repeal of a bill that is the subject of a referendum, and it's unclear what the courts would do.
Should the repeal question remain on the ballot, Blessing said a vote for it would be similar to one for a deceased candidate whose name was still on the ballot.
"That's what's happening to this bill," Blessing said. "It's dying."
Rep. Vernon Sykes, an Akron Democrat, said the repeal was unfair to those who want to weigh in on the issue.
"We are taking it away from the people," Sykes said. "They have spoken. They would like to have an opportunity to make a decision."
By ANN SANNER Associated Press
The Associated Press