Cuyahoga County voters could be asked this November to make the protection of voting rights a permanent part of the county’s governing charter, under a proposal from Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald.
FitzGerald on Tuesday introduced a proposed charter amendment declaring voting a “fundamental right in the County.” It authorizes the county to take action, including legal action, to protect and promote the right to vote among county residents.
The proposed county charter amendment, which is co-sponsored by Democratic County Councilwoman Sunny Simon, says the county would also undertake measures to promote voter registration and early voting among county residents.
To become law, the amendment would require approval from eight of county council’s eleven members, as well as approval from voters.
A council committee has been reviewing potential charter amendments over the course of this year, with plans to submit a final list for a vote over the summer in time for the November ballot. That’s the same election in which FitzGerald, a Democrat, will challenge Republican Gov. John Kasich.
Republican Councilman Dave Greenspan, the chairman of the county council committee, said FitzGerald’s proposal will be heard along with other proposed amendments in July.
However, he questioned its purpose.
Greenspan was among the three Republicans on council who voted against another FitzGerald “voting rights” measure last month.
That measure, which cleared the Democratic-controlled Cuyahoga County Council, asserted the county’s right to mail unsolicited early voting applications to the county’s registered voters, in defiance of a state ban.
Republicans who voted against it said it was illegal and possibly positioned the county for a costly legal fight.
“The question is, is this charter amendment asking voters to grant the county rights to do something it’s already performed?” Greenspan said.
Tuesday’s proposed amendment is the latest in a spate of proposals and public statements this year from FitzGerald challenging recent election related changes from Republicans in the state government.
Earlier this year, a pair of new laws, passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature and signed by Kasich, eliminated “Golden Week,” the five-day period in which voters can register to vote and cast a ballot in the same day, and forbid counties from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications.
Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted also set early voting hours for the November election that include no evenings or Sundays.
The changes are meant to encourage statewide voting uniformity, Republicans said. They also point out that Ohio still has more early voting hours than most states. FitzGerald and other Democrats have framed the new laws and reduced early voting hours as an effort to suppress Democratic voters.
FitzGerald has also alternately threatened legal action against the state government andrequested a federal investigation into the conduct of state Republicans. Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging some of the election changes.
In a written news release on Tuesday, FitzGerald said his proposed charter amendment is a “no-brainer.”
“Here in Cuyahoga County, we’re going to keep doing everything we can to protect voting rights for our constituents,” he said.
Simon said in her own written statement: “This amendment will make it clear that Cuyahoga County will always protect its citizens’ right to vote. I am proud to help lead this important effort as we stand up for the rights of all voters.”
Jerry Austin, a local longtime political consultant who is aligned Democrats, said if done correctly, FitzGerald could use the early voting issue to energize Democratic voters in November for his gubernatorial campaign, particularly among the black community.
FitzGerald’s stand on voting rights has previously garnered him positive attention from MSNBC, the left-leaning national television news outlet.
“To make it a central point of his election campaign is worth doing,” Austin said.
WKYC: Cleveland: Fitzgerald rolls out voting rights proposal:FitzGerald’s proposal would give county voters the chance to approve Article XIV to the County Charter. It would provide that the right to vote is a basic right in the County and authorize the County to act to protect and encourage the right to vote. This includes the promotion of voter registration and early voting.
The Leader: Ed FitzGerald Introduces Cuyahoga County Voting Rights Proposal: Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who is not seeking reelection and is instead running for Ohio governor this fall, introduced proposed legislation that would allow Cuyahoga County voters to decide of the county’s charter should add an amendment protecting voting rights. FitzGerald is hoping to get the proposal on the November ballot, and is sending the proposed legislation to Cuyahoga County Council. The measure is being co-sponsored by Councilwoman Sunny Simon (D-11).