COLUMBUS: At least two Ohio elections boards have set their own hours during disputed early voting days, as the battleground state waits for a federal appeals court to sort out whether people can cast an early ballot on the three days before Election Day.
Jefferson County in eastern Ohio and Wayne County in the northeast have set their own early-voting hours for the Nov. 6 general election. Elections board members in Summit County, where Akron is the county seat, also voted on election hours but it was unclear if the vote counted.
The Obama campaign and Democrats sued earlier this year over part of the new Ohio law that cuts off early voting on the Friday evening before a Tuesday election, except for military personnel and Ohio voters living overseas. U.S. District Judge Peter Economus in August issued a preliminary injunction, saying the law was unconstitutional in changing the in-person early voting deadline. The state appealed Economus’ ruling.
Economus also said he expected Secretary of State Jon Husted to direct all county election boards to maintain a consistent schedule on those three days. Husted initially banned all of Ohio’s 88 county boards from establishing hours while the appeal process is under way. He later rescinded that directive after he was ordered to appear before the judge.
Ohio is among 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allow voters to cast early ballots in person without having to give reasons. Ohio’s previous law allowed early voting on the three days before a Tuesday election.
In Jefferson County, the elections board voted to set tentative early voting hours for the Saturday before Nov. 6. The time is in line with the board’s normal business hours for that day, said Diane Gribble, the board’s director.
“Whether we’re voting or we’re not, we’re here,” Gribble said, adding the office would comply with any court ruling or Husted directive. “This is just trying to cover all of the bases.”
Wayne County elections officials held a special meeting to set hours on the Saturday and Monday before Election Day. The two Democrats and two Republicans on the board approved the hours without any objections, said B. Jean Mohr, the board’s chair.
In Summit County, two Democrats on the board moved to set early voting hours during the disputed days while one of their GOP counterparts is recovering in the hospital from a car accident. Ray Weber, the lone attending Republican, left Tuesday’s meeting in protest. It wasn’t clear whether the 2-0 vote to approve early voting hours on the three days stands.
The county prosecutor’s office said the board had a quorum at the time of the vote because Weber was still in the room. Husted’s office disagreed.
Weber said Thursday that the topic should have been on the board agenda and not brought up “by ambush.”
“Unless the court sets the hours, Secretary of State Husted will set the hours ... not the Summit County Democratic Party, or even the Summit County Board of Elections,” said Weber, an Akron lawyer.