Under the guise of restoring “stability” to Ohio’s elections system, four Republicans in the Ohio House are backing a bill to cut the state’s early voting period from 35 to 17 days, with the final day being the increasingly popular option the Friday before Election Day. The measure was introduced late last week by Rep. John Becker, from Union Township in Clermont County.
Becker’s assertion that “intervention” by federal judges has created “chaotic” elections is ludicrous. In fact, repeated Republican efforts in 2012 to cut early voting caused confusion. The fight over the final three days of early voting was especially bitter, the Obama campaign forced to file suit after Republicans unwisely maneuvered to restore a ban initially blocked by a successful referendum drive.
Also worth recalling (as did the judge who restored early voting on the final three days before Election Day) was the chaos of 2004, voters all but disenfranchised by long lines at the polls. In the aftermath came the welcome, bipartisan response, early voting.
The solution worked, as noted last week by voting rights advocates who immediately fought back against Becker’s bill. Cathleen Turcer of Common Cause Ohio pointed to the increasing numbers who cast no-fault absentee ballots in person, in both urban and rural counties. Daniel Tokaji, law professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University rightly called early voting “one of the best features of current Ohio law.”
Early voting has worked, without placing an undue burden on local boards of elections. By easing the crush of voters on Election Day, early voting has reduced the very real risk of voters simply walking away, unable to make their voices heard.
Rather than an attack on early voting, what’s needed at the Statehouse is the same spirit of compromise that led to early voting in the first place. Instead of looking for ways to make access to the ballot more difficult, Republican majorities in the legislature should work with Democrats to craft measures to make voting easier and more accessible to all. That would bring stability and restore confidence in the system.