Ohio group that wants voter access, other election protections in Constitution holds summit

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — More than 100 people attended a statewide summit Saturday exploring voting-rights issues in Ohio and advancing a proposed constitutional amendment that would put certain guarantees in the state constitution.

Representatives of a coalition of black lawmakers, clergy and civil rights leaders that launched the campaign in January were in attendance, as well as politicians, voter advocates, election lawyers and others.

U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, a Columbus Democrat, energized a lunch crowd at Trinity Baptist Church near downtown Columbus where the Voter Bill of Rights organization convened the event.

She said efforts to restrict early voting hours and days cannot succeed in discouraging the battleground state's black voters if enough people help register them, educate them and bring voters to the polls.

"We are here today with young soldiers in the march," Beatty said. "We are here today with people who were there 50 years ago (when the Civil Rights movement began), people who understand why we are here today."

Ohio early voting started Tuesday, after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling moved the date a week later than a lower court had. Even with the later start time, Ohio still has among the highest number of early voting days in the country, with residents able to cast an absentee ballot by mail or in person for 28 days before the Nov. 4 election.

The Voter Bill of Rights would put the state's previous 35-day early voting period in the constitution; require that early voting stations be open on weekends; prohibit ballots being rejected due to election official or poll worker error; and expand the types of allowable voter identification. Supporters aim to place it on the ballot in 2015 or 2016.

State Rep. Alicia Reese, president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, said 100,000 signatures have been gathered, 1,200 volunteers have been trained and more than 500 churches are involved.

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