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Ability to vote early to be curtailed in Ohio’s November election

Associated Press

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COLUMBUS: The Republican legislature and Secretary of State this week enacted voting provisions that could affect the ability of some people to vote in the nation’s hotly contested swing state.

On Wednesday, Ohio lawmakers approved a bill setting forth when provisional ballots are counted in the political swing state and what it takes to cast one.

The measure requires voters to provide their date of birth and current address on the provisional ballot envelope and to check additional boxes in order for the ballot to be eligible to be counted.

Provisional ballots include those cast when voters don’t bring proper ID to the polls or cast them in the wrong precinct.

The bill does, however, require that provisional ballots be counted if a person arrives at the correct polling location but votes in the wrong precinct. Some polling places contain voting machines for several precincts.

In the 2012 presidential election, about one in every six of the 200,000 provisional ballots were thrown out.

Also this week, Secretary of State Jon Husted limited the days and times that voters can cast an early, in-person ballot.

Ohio voters will get two Saturdays but no Sundays or evenings.

Husted said his directive reflects a proposal from the bipartisan Ohio Association of Election Officials. He has pressed state lawmakers for the past three years to put the hours and days for early voting into law, but the GOP-controlled legislature has not adopted any plan.

“I have watched as numerous election laws have passed the General Assembly and yet the bipartisan plan I have advocated for has neither been introduced nor adopted,” Husted said in a statement.

Residents can cast an absentee ballot by mail or in person without giving any reason.

Lacking legislation establishing early voting times, Husted said he used the blueprint hours from the Republicans and Democrats who run local elections in Ohio’s 88 counties.

For the general election, local boards would not be open for in-person, early voting after 5 p.m. on weekdays and would be closed on Sundays — a change from previous years.

Husted’s directive drew criticism from the Democratic candidate who is vying for his job this November, state Sen. Nina Turner of Cleveland.

Turner said elections officials need flexibility to set times that work for their voters, not “one-size-fits-all solutions.”

“There is no justification for arbitrarily denying the vast majority of Ohio voters’ access to open polling places,” Turner said in a statement.

The 2012 presidential election cycle in Ohio was marked by several disputes over early voting rules, including a lawsuit brought by President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

Still, about 33 percent of the state’s voters cast an early ballot in the last presidential election, with the majority choosing to vote on Election Day. Close to 1.3 million Ohioans mailed or dropped off their ballots to local boards, while more than 600,500 residents voted early in person.

Husted’s office plans to mail absentee ballot application forms to all registered voters again this year, as they did for the 2012 contests.

Voters can expect to see other changes to election rules this year.

Republican Gov. John Kasich recently signed into law a bill to eliminate the so-called golden week, a period when residents can both register to vote and cast an early ballot.

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