Ann Sanner

COLUMBUS: The state’s elections chief fired two Democrats from an elections board in southwest Ohio on Tuesday after they pushed to allow extended weekend early voting, beyond the hours he had ordered.

Secretary of State Jon Husted initially suspended Thomas Ritchie Sr. and Dennis Lieberman from their positions on the Montgomery County Board of Elections and then temporarily lifted the suspension last week so the Dayton-area board could continue its work.

He told the members in a letter Tuesday that he was immediately dismissing them. He said they “knowingly and willfully violated Ohio election law” by not following his directive.

Both members appeared at the secretary of state’s office last week for a hearing on whether they should be removed. At issue was whether they failed to act consistently with Husted’s order on early voting times by voting to extend hours into the weekend.

A state hearing officer recommended on Monday that Husted remove them from the board for failing to act consistently with his order.

Ohio is one of 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allow voters to cast early ballots in person without having to give a reason. Husted, a Republican, has directed election boards in Ohio’s 88 counties to have the same early in-person voting hours on weekdays and have no hours on weekends.

The board members’ actions are among a series of disputes over early voting in the presidential battleground state. The issue has essentially broken down along party lines, with Democrats favoring longer hours and Republicans opposed.

Hearing officer Jon Allison, who was appointed by Husted, told the secretary of state in a report issued Monday that the board members acted in violation of his directive and the law.

Lieberman and Ritchie contended at the hearing that they abided by the directive. They said Husted’s order addressed regular business hours, not weekend hours. Their attorney, Don McTigue, said a “rush job” by the secretary of state’s office resulted in an ambiguous directive that is now being used to discipline his clients.

When a vacancy occurs on an elections board, the political party of the member nominates a replacement and the secretary of state confirms or denies the appointment.