Jon Husted has asked repeatedly for state lawmakers to deliver a uniform, in-person early-voting schedule for elections. His fellow Republicans in command at the Statehouse have balked, even as they have approved other elections-related legislation. On Tuesday, the secretary of state moved ahead without them. He issued a directive setting the schedule for the May primary and November general election.
The timing made sense, well before voting begins, allowing a sufficient interval to prepare.
Ideally, Democrats and Republicans in the legislature long ago would have worked together to upgrade the elections system in Ohio. That has proved elusive. So Husted opted for a helpful version of such bipartisanship. His directive reflects the recommendation of the Ohio Association of Elections Officials, Democrats and Republicans working together to devise an in-person early-voting schedule. These officials weighed priorities, including ample access and smooth elections operations, engaged in give and take and arrived at a proposal that still makes the state a national leader in this area.
The period for early voting would shrink, from 35 days to 29 days before an election. The national average is 19 days. The battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia do not have early voting at all. This editorial page favors early voting on the weekend. Husted and the elections officials call for early voting on the two Saturdays before Election Day.
Most important, applications for absentee ballots will be sent to all voters. Apply, and voters can cast their ballots at home, no excuse required, again, in contrast with Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia. All of this makes Ohio a relatively easy place to vote.
That hasn’t quieted critics. They have described the Husted directive as a “terrible loss” and accused the secretary of “ignoring justice.” He could have backed away from issuing a directive, allowing each county elections board to set its own hours and days for in-person, early voting. No doubt that would trigger many tie votes, two Democrats and two Republicans on each board, requiring the secretary to break the deadlocks, inviting protests, pressure and litigation.
Certain, too, is that many Republicans have looked for ways to make voting more difficult, even if just at the margins. That isn’t the case in the Husted directive on in-person early voting. The directive is the product of Democrats and Republicans crafting a worthy compromise, putting aside the calculated outrage and hollow claims, finding a middle ground that works for all counties. It leaves the terrain defined and the parties to focus on getting out their voters.