For months, Jon Husted has called on state lawmakers to set a uniform schedule for early, in-person absentee voting, a popular option but one that was the subject of bitter litigation in the 2012 presidential election. The secretary of state wisely views standard days and hours for early voting across 88 counties as crucial to all voters having equal access to the ballot.
Unfortunately, as the Ohio House prepares this week to take action on elections bills, its leadership has put aside the Husted recommendation, once again opening the way for more litigation over early voting. Rather than work out a bipartisan plan, the legislature is practically inviting the courts to step in, the legal battling generating confusion for voters.
A strong foundation for bipartisan action exists, as Husted has explained repeatedly, in a proposal from the Ohio Association of Election Officials, an organization that includes many Republican and Democratic county party chairs. While the group would eliminate early, in-person voting on the Monday before Election Day, it would set expanded hours for early voting on weekdays and weekends in presidential years and limited extra voting hours on at least one Saturday in other years.
The plan would shorten the time for early voting from 35 days to 29 or 28 days, depending on the year, eliminating the “Golden Week” during which voters may register and cast a ballot at the same time. Although this proposal has generated some controversy, it would end confusion over Golden Week and still maintain Ohio as a national leader in early voting.
A bill proposed by state Sen. Frank LaRose, a Copley Township Republican, would eliminate the overlapping times for early voting and voter registration. It is a priority for the House, and could easily be amended to include the plan proposed by local elections officials. But strangely, Mike Dovilla, the Berea Republican who chairs the House Policy & Oversight Committee, says that’s not something Husted has “brought to our attention as a legislative initiative.”
Actually, Husted and local election officials from across the state have mapped a way forward. Now is the time to follow it.