In a speech this week to county elections officials, Jon Husted set the right priorities for improving how Ohio votes. The secretary of state, having weathered his first presidential election as the state’s chief elections officer, set out an agenda worthy of prompt and serious consideration.
The past campaign season included frequent charges of voter fraud and suppression. Husted rightly wants a consistent process for local boards of elections to examine legitimate concerns, substantiated claims going to local prosecutors.
Getting the details right will be important, especially the insistence on firsthand evidence. Done well, such a process would dispel overblown accusations that harm voter confidence.
In the recent lame-duck session, Republican lawmakers weighed moving forward with an elections reform bill. They rightly opted to wait, as Husted advised. In his talk, the secretary set sound priorities, reiterating his call for online voter registration and absentee ballot requests, uniform days and hours for voting and updating rules on provisional ballots, cast when registration is in doubt.
Ohio still relies too heavily on provisional ballots, with more than 200,000 cast in 2012, a number large enough to trigger lawsuits in a close election. The number counted (83.5 percent) improved slightly from 2008 (80 percent), and Husted noted that 60 percent of the rejected ballots were tossed because voters were not registered in Ohio. Still, questions remain about provisional ballots rejected for highly technical reasons, such as voters improperly filling out identification information.
A champion of redistricting reform as a state senator, Husted again urged lawmakers to act, correctly citing the need for more competitive districts that give voters a “real opportunity” to bring change. A promising bipartisan bill passed the Senate late in the past session, but the House did not act in time. The effort soon should be revived.
Husted also chided federal officials for not funding the 2002 Help America Vote Act at levels initially authorized. Among other changes, the law required needed updates in voting machines, now 10 years old and ready for replacement. It makes sense, as Husted indicated, for a Congress that may seek new elections requirements, first to fund the ones already on the books.
Early in his remarks, Husted proudly noted a CNN election night report that indicated all was going smoothly in Ohio, compared to Florida. Actually, despite a record number of absentee ballots (in a first, applications were mailed by the secretary of state to all registered voters), some early and Election Day voters in Summit County and elsewhere waited for hours. It shouldn’t be so inconvenient for Ohioans to cast ballots.
So, yes, progress has been made in this battleground state’s voting procedures. Much work remains to ensure a smooth and fair outcome.