The Summit County elections board sent out and got back about 2,100 absentee ballots for the Nov. 5 election in the first week of early voting.
That number was much higher in last year’s presidential election, with the board sending and receiving more than 38,000 early ballots during this week, which is the only week when voters can both register and early vote at the same time.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and the Ohio Association of Election Officials (OAEO) have proposed eliminating this one-week overlap period, dubbed the “Golden Week,” cutting the early voting period from 35 to 29 days. They also are suggesting uniform hours for in-person early voting across the state, with more limited hours in off-year elections like last Tuesday’s and more extensive hours in presidential election years in which interest and turnout is higher.
Not surprisingly, though, election officials in Summit County and across Ohio have different views on whether these proposed changes are a good idea.
“Anything that cuts down 35 days is an improvement,” said Alex Arshinkoff, the Summit County GOP chairman and an elections board member, who has long been opposed to early voting. “I’m old-fashioned. I just don’t understand it. Why don’t we start voting in June?”
Wayne Jones, the Summit County Democratic Party chairman and an elections board member, thinks the early voting period should stay as it is and that the hours for in-person early voting should be broader than what Husted is proposing.
“We can’t usurp people’s rights to vote,” he said.
The early voting changes were among several election reforms Husted proposed in an Oct. 24 memo to Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, and House Speaker Bill Batchelder, R-Medina. He took the suggestions from a report released by OAEO in March. Lawmakers haven’t yet introduced legislation with the early voting changes.
Aaron Ockerman, executive director of OAEO, which is a bipartisan group of election officials across the state, hopes the legislature will take up the early voting changes in this session. He said the proposal, developed by a task force of the group’s members, was an attempt to balance the interests of the state’s smaller and larger counties. He said having extended hours comes at a significant expense, which poses a problem for smaller counties in particular.
“They are going to county commissioners with their budgets and hearing, ‘Which deputy do you want to lay off?’ ” Ockerman said. “They can’t afford to have that cost. It is definitely a big concern.”
Ockerman acknowledged, though, that there is division among election officials about what the early voting hours should be. He said the group thought it made sense to have less in-person early voting hours in off-year, municipal elections in which the turnout is lower.
“We felt that we need to look at each election as an individual event and make the best law that applies,” Ockerman said. “The presidential is exponentially higher than the others.”
In Summit County, the turnout for Tuesday’s election was the lowest it had been in the past four municipal elections and the early voting interest was also low, with fewer than 11,000 voters requesting absentee ballots, which was about 11.5 percent of the total number of votes cast. Other highlights of the absentee voting include:
■ More than three-fourths of the absentee ballots were done by mail.
■ Nearly an equal number of Democrats and nonpartisan voters cast early ballots, with about 4,200 each. About 2,600 Republicans and a handful of Green party and Libertarian voters cast absentee ballots.
■ The interest in early voting increased as the election drew closer, with the elections board issuing and receiving the most ballots in the week before the election.
It remains to be seen what action the Republican- controlled legislature, which enacted and then repealed early voting legislation before the 2012 presidential election, will take on early voting, with a gubernatorial election coming up next year.
Matt McClellan, a spokesman for Husted, said Husted thinks the OAEO proposal makes sense because it has the support of a group that represents election officials across the state from both parties.
“It’s not about cutting hours,” McClellan said. “It’s about making sure everyone is playing by the same rules.”