Turns out Ed FitzGerald is a shrewd negotiator, and Jon Husted meant what he said about treating all voters the same. They've ended their battle over voting-by-mail with a dramatic compromise announced this morning.
FitzGerald extracted a major promise from the secretary of state and Republican leaders in the legislature: Husted will send every Ohioan an application for a mail-in ballot for the 2012 presidential election. The legislature will agree to let Husted use federal money from the Help America Vote Act to pay for it. That'll help prevent long lines at the polls from returning in 2012.
The deal satisfies the Republican goal of treating voters in all 88 counties the same. They're doing something I thought they wouldn't do, the opposite of the thrust of their newly passed election law. They're taking urban counties' best solution for overcrowded voting locations and expanding it to everyone, instead of banning it.
FitzGerald had to make a major concession to get a deal with Husted. He had to drop Cuyahoga County's plan to send out ballot applications for the 2011 election. No other county was going to do it, which defied Husted's insistence on creating uniform statewide standards.
Jill Miller Zimon, over at Writes Like She Talks, sounds disappointed, skeptical about the details. But I think the compromise is shrewd. This year's Senate Bill 5 referendum is big, but the presidential election is much bigger.
By using his leverage to make voting easier for people across Ohio, FitzGerald becomes more of a force in state politics -- note how the Columbus Dispatch report calls him "perhaps Cleveland's most powerful Democrat." And Husted gets to reclaim his image as a moderate in ballot controversies. It won't stop the fight over HB 194, but it's the sort of bipartisan compromise on voting issues that has become all too rare.
The biggest question left is, will the statewide mailing only happen once, in 2012? Or will the deal create a precedent that Ohio will follow from then on?