Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has decided to standardize early voting hours statewide, limiting them in response to a controversy that evoked charges of partisanship and voter suppression.
In a directive sent Wednesday to county voting officials, Husted mandated that all county boards of election operate the same hours for in-person absentee voting – also known as early voting. In the 2008 presidential elections, about 30 percent of Ohio’s votes were cast prior to Election Day, according to an Aug. 15 Associated Press story.
For the first three weeks of early voting, which begins Oct. 2, people will be able to cast votes Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., except for two exceptions: on Oct. 8, when state offices are closed for Columbus Day, and Oct. 9, when the boards will be open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Early voting during the last two weeks before the election will be available 8a.m. to 7 p.m Mondays through Fridays.
But in-person early voting ends on Nov. 2, the Friday before Election Day, in compliance with a state law passed last year by the Republican-dominated state legislature and Republican Governor John Kasich.
“The secretary talked to boards of election in the counties, asking what would work best,” said Matt McClellan, Husted’s spokesman. “The consensus he arrived at was that extending hours a little bit during week would be the best outcome.”
McClellan repeated Husted’s position that weekend hours were not necessary because anyone can request absentee ballots and vote by mail.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, which had asked earlier this week that Husted extend the hours for all counties, said Thursday that uniform hours were a step in the right direction, and that Husted was right to try and find a solution by consensus.
But ACLU of Ohio Director of Communications and Public Policy Mike Brickner said that weekend voting hours have proved popular in past years because a lot of people need them; for example, people who work long hours or hold more than one job. The need for non-weekday hours could apply to Brickner as well.
“For me, I work in the city of Cleveland, but I’m registered to vote in Lake County. And for me to get to Painesville, where I live, is an hour from the city of Cleveland, if there’s no traffic,” said Brickner. “For me to get there in time to cast my ballot is hard. And when I think of a single parent or someone who’s elderly and needs a ride to get to the polls… We need that weekend early voting time.”
Until Husted’s directive, county election boards were responsible for setting the in-person voting hours for their territory. According to state law, each board is made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, with the secretary of state intervening to break a tie vote. In counties that went to President Barack Obama in the last election, such as those including the state’s largest cities of Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, and Akron, Democratic board members had voted to extend early voting hours into nights and weekends. In those counties, they found themselves blocked by their Republican counterparts and Husted had broken the tie by restricting voting hours to the same ones used by the local boards of election. But in counties that went to Republican Senator John McCain in 2008, Republican board members had agreed to extend the early voting hours.
Ohio is expected to be an important bellwether in the upcoming presidential elections. In 2008, 51 percent of the state’s votes went to Obama, and 47 percent went to McCain.
Follow Stephanie Siek on Twitter at @TweetsNotTwits.