Big election years in Ohio usually bring big fights over how votes are cast and counted in this battleground state. Last week brought welcome news about 2014, when the governor’s office and other statewide executive posts will be contested. Jon Husted, a Republican and Ohio’s secretary of state, announced that he will again send out absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the state.
The cost of last November’s mailing, about $1.6 million, was defrayed by federal Help America Vote Act funding. Husted hopes to use remaining federal funds next year, although no final decision has been made. Whatever the source, money to encourage absentee voting is well worth it. Husted correctly pointed to the 1.26 million voters who used the option, crucial to shortening lines at the polls on Election Day. Overall, about 5.6 million votes were cast.
Looking beyond next year, the legislature should, as part of a comprehensive elections reform bill, ensure that absentee ballot requests continued to be mailed to all registered voters, at least in even-numbered years. That would continue the spirit of compromise reached by Husted and Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, in the fall of 2011. FitzGerald threatened to use county money to get around a Husted directive aimed at stopping large counties from such mailings when smaller counties didn’t follow the same practice.
Worth remembering is that voting in Ohio continues to be easier than in many other states. Ohio no longer requires an excuse to obtain an absentee ballot and also permits early in-person voting by absentee ballot. In all, 28 states lack early voting and 14 require an excuse to get an absentee ballot. Husted’s decision keeps Ohio moving in the right direction. The legislature should follow up.