Democrats and watchdog groups have exposed yet another wrinkle in the way Ohio plans to conduct its November elections, a variation in early voting hours that favors Republican-leaning counties while decreasing ballot access in Democratic counties such as Summit and Cuyahoga.
The discrepancy is the result of how tie votes on elections boards were broken by Jon Husted, the secretary of state. Husted now is considering a directive that would require all counties to follow normal business hours for early voting, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., a possibility that further would reduce access to the polls and invite longer lines on Election Day.
What happened? In Republican-leaning Warren and Butler counties, Democrats and Republicans on local elections boards agreed to early voting hours that, starting Oct. 2, include nights and weekends. But where boards deadlocked, as they did in Summit, Cuyahoga, Lucas and Franklin counties, Husted, a Republican, resolved the disputes by favoring regular business hours, an inconvenience for many working-class voters. In 2008, all four counties went for Barack Obama.
The latest dispute over early, in-person absentee voting comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the Obama campaign against Ohio over a state law that closed down early voting on the three days before Election Day, a time during which more than 100,000 people cast ballots four year ago.
A spokesman for the secretary of state said Husted would not respond to “political hysteria,” but would work with local boards to resolve the issue. Husted noted Montgomery County, which also went for Obama, has extended its voting hours.
The reaction by Democrats and groups such as the Center for American Progress and the American Civil Liberties Union hardly constitutes hysteria, in light of the overall pattern evident in Republican-dominated states such as Ohio, which have chipped away at improvements such as early voting, intended to ease crowding on Election Day.
Husted points to a compromise reached with Cuyahoga County officials which resulted in the secretary of state’s office sending absentee ballot applications to every voter in the state. That is a good thing. But it shouldn’t serve as cover for restricting ballot access in other ways, not all voters wishing to mail ballots.
Instead, the mailing of absentee ballots should set an example for how to resolve other questions about bringing uniformity to voting procedures. Faced with a discrepancy among counties on absentee ballot applications, Husted stepped forward to expand opportunities for all voters. Involving similar matters, such as early voting hours, he should follow the same logic, making Ohio a model of fairness, not the target of lawsuits.