Jon Husted followed the judge’s orders. On Tuesday, the secretary of state announced new hours for early voting in presidential and off-year elections across Ohio. He complied with the sound directive issued last week by federal Judge Peter Economus, requiring the polls to be open on the three days before Election Day.
That is a good result for Ohio, though the secretary isn’t quite the villain described by critics. His bid to set narrower hours for early voting, eliminating Sunday sessions, for instance, reflected the work of a bipartisan group of local elections officials, the only plan with Democratic and Republican support.
Worth recalling is why early voting emerged in the first place. Many Ohioans waited for hours to vote in the 2004 presidential election. In the aftermath, the political parties joined at the Statehouse to make voting more convenient. This matter of convenience deserves emphasis in light of the current focus largely trained on turnout.
The concepts of turnout and convenience are distinct. Voting was dramatically more convenient in 2012, yet turnout fell short of 2004. Ohio should do all it reasonably can to make voting more accessible, including evening hours and on both days of the two weekends before Election Day.
Husted did not go that far. Yet when the state has four weeks of early voting, additional days and hours affect marginally the degree of convenience. State Rep. Kathleen Clyde needled the secretary for halting early voting at 2 p.m. on the Monday before Election Day. She would prefer something closer to 5 p.m. How much difference would those three hours really make?
Voting starts the next morning at 6:30 a.m., and goes for 13 hours, the polls open for 219 hours in all this fall. Know, too, that the secretary of state will send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters, the convenience of casting a ballot brought home.
This editorial page long has argued for greater convenience. The political parties have tangled, fiercely, over voter turnout. Republicans have applied dark arts to voter identification, among other things. Democrats contend that each lost hour of early voting amounts to voter suppression, which invites the impression that their outrage is more about energizing their base.
Keep in mind, Republicans have a firm grip on state government, Ohioans having spoken at the polls. The party has clear leverage in almost any debate. Might many Republicans wish to see voting return to a single day, an excuse required to vote absentee? That hasn’t happened. Voting remains much more convenient in Ohio than a decade ago, or in many other states.
Which brings the contest down to, yes, turnout, voters more likely to cast ballots when their interest is higher. And if they are engaged, the opportunities to vote in Ohio are many.