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Ohio attorney general opposes speeding up timeline for lawsuit over proposed voting rights amendment

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republican Attorney General Dave Yost told the Ohio Supreme Court on Monday that rushing a lawsuit filed against him by a coalition of civil rights organizations seeking to place a package of voter protections on the November ballot is unjustified.

In a court filing, Yost said the July 3 cutoff for the “Ohio Voters Bill of Rights” to make the fall ballot is a false deadline. Ballot campaigns are often mounted in presidential election years in order to take advantage of high turnouts or to motivate certain voter groups.

“Indeed, Relators’ petition is in its infancy and they offer no support for their blanket assertion that their petition will survive the constitutional hurdles in time for the 2024 general election,” he wrote, adding that the group can always try for some future election cycle.

The coalition, which includes the A. Philip Randolph Institute, NAACP and others, told the court that needing to sue the attorney general shouldn’t “unduly delay” access to the ballot for the voters on whose behalf they filed the lawsuit.

At issue in the coalition's lawsuit is a Jan. 25 finding by Yost that the proposed constitutional amendment’s title was “highly misleading and misrepresentative” of its contents. He issued the decision even while acknowledging that his office had previously certified identical language, including a Nursing Facility Patients’ Bill of Rights in 2021 and another Ohio Voters Bill of Rights in 2014.

In his rejection letter, Yost cited “recent authority from the Ohio Supreme Court” giving him the ability to review petition headings, authority challenged in the lawsuit. The coalition wants the court to order Yost to certify their petition language.

In Monday's filing, Yost stuck to discussing his office's overall role certifying petition language as “fair and truthful” — authority the lawsuit does not challenge.

"The importance of the Attorney General’s scope and authority to ensure that the summaries provided to voters are fair and truthful cannot be understated,” the filing said.

The Ohio Voters Bill of Rights would enshrine in the state constitution the right for all Ohioans to vote safely and securely and require automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration and expanded early voting options and locations.

The push for election law changes follows Ohio’s enactment last year of a host of election law changes, including tougher photo ID requirements and shortened windows after Election Day for returning and curing ballots.

It also follows a fight last summer over the threshold for passing amendments to the Ohio Constitution. Issue 1 on the August ballot, which would have raised it from a simple majority to 60%, was soundly rejected by voters.