Debate Center, 8/28

Election Hours Controversy Comes to Montgomery Country

How we conduct elections in Ohio has become a contentious issue between Republicans and Democrats in recent years. The battle over voting rages over just how accessible voting should be made for those wishing to cast a ballot.

During the 2008 election cycle, with Democrats in control, major changes were enacted to expand the period of time during which a person could vote prior to the official Election Day that November. Absentee voting was expanded to allow anyone to vote by an absentee ballot.  In previous elections, in order to receive an absentee ballot, the voter had to be over 65 years of age or out of town on Election Day. In 2008, thousands of people took advantage of the expanded voting opportunity allowed for absentee voting.

The Democratic secretary of state also expanded the number of hours that a voter could come in person to the board of elections and cast their ballot. Across Ohio, counties were able to set their own hours for “in-person” voting leading up to the election. There was a wide range of hours being offered depending on the county.  Many urban counties took advantage of the new regulations by allowing in-person weekend voting. This additional requirement that the boards of election remain open on weekends was expensive, as board employees were working 70 hour weeks and more in order to accommodate the avalanche of early voters in 2008.

Move forward to 2012.  Republican Jon Husted is now the secretary of state. Husted received complaints about the lack of uniformity in the hours offered for in-person early voting. Many of the smaller Ohio counties complained to Husted that they couldn’t afford the number of additional hours that were being accommodated by the large urban counties.  These additional hours of in-person voting gave the urban counties (read that as Democratic counties) a perceived advantage as their voters had more time to get to the board to vote in person.

The conflict on early voting is about finding a balance between strained county budgets and Election Day efficiency on one hand, and making sure that everyone who wants to vote has access to vote on the other hand.  African-American populations within the larger urban counties found the polls opening on Sundays to be very convenient for their voter programs which take Sunday church goers to the polls as soon as Sunday service are over. The so called “Souls to the Polls” helped bring to the polls a number of voters who might not otherwise have been able to get there in person.

Early voting in Ohio now begins on October 2.  The voter can either come in person to the board of elections to vote or mail in an absentee ballot prior to the election. In addition, for the first time the secretary of state is sending out an absentee application form to every registered voter in Ohio. In a Directive, Husted made the hours for in-person early voting uniform across the state -weekdays only, no weekends.

In Montgomery County, the Democratic members of the board of elections took exception to the Directive from Husted, not allowing weekend hours and refused to go along.  They were temporarily removed from the board and the issue has become a national story. Others argue that we have made voting extremely easy by giving options to the voter to vote by mail, in-person at the board or on Election Day.

Forum Question of the Week:

Do you agree with the action taken by Secretary of State Jon Husted in eliminating weekend hours for in-person voting at Ohio boards of election? Does it disenfranchise voters or are there sufficient opportunities for all Ohioans to vote?

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