Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State is telling boards of elections they need to be open for in person early voting from 8 to 7 on weekdays in the two weeks leading up to Election Day….with the exception of the last Friday when they will close at six. And Jon Husted says there won’t be any weekend voting. He’s making these rules after it became known that some Republican leaning counties were allowing generous voting opportunities on weeknights and weekend while some Democratic leaning counties could not. Husted says this resolution is fair.
“The best decision in this case was one of fairness….treating people equally. That’s a principle I do agree with. And we have done that with absentee ballots. We are now doing that with hours of operation. Again, you may not like the hours of operation. You may think they are too long. You may think they are too short. But they are fair for everybody.”
But Democrats are upset that the Secretary of State didn’t include weekend early voting hours in the mix. Democratic State Representative Kathleen Clyde says treating people equally in the process is not necessarily insuring everyone has the same experience.
“What happens when you try to bring a large county like Cuyahoga County to try to do the exact same processes as say Vinton County or a much smaller county in Ohio that has 10 to 20 thousand voters as opposed to a million voters, you start to have different treatment. You can’t apply all of the rules exactly the same because then the voters experience can be dramatically different. You can have long lines in our urban centers and no lines in other areas of the state and that’s a real problem.”
Ohio will operate under new voting laws this election. That means voters who went to the polls on weekends in 2008 will not be able to do the same this November. But there will still be early voting opportunities…by mail…and in person at the board of elections during the weekdays on the month before the election. Democrats are suing to get the three days of weekend voting before Election Day reinstated. Husted’s spokesman, Matt McClelland says the directive by Husted does not deal with that weekend.
“The directive does not address the three days before the election. It’s currently the focus of the lawsuit that was filed by the Obama campaign so we are waiting for the outcome of the court case to provide further direction and guidance on those three days.”
There are reasons why Democrats want weekend voting, especially the weekend before the election, reinstated. Gregg Moore is with Fair Elections Ohio, a group that tried to repeal a law that, among other things, wiped out those three days. Moore says in person voting opportunities on nights and weekends were more popular with African Americans than other groups in the 2008 election.
“If you look at the counties, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton and Summit, the percentage of African Americans as early in person voters is 56% in Cuyahoga, 31% in Franklin, 32% in summit and 52% in Montgomery. The percentage of non African American in person voting is 25% in Cuyahoga, 21% in Franklin so it just shows that a disproportionate number of African Americans who are voting in the in person early voting period more than they are through the regular voting process.”
In 2008, 93,000 Ohioans voted in the three day weekend before Election Day. Ohio Democratic Party Chair Chris Redfern says that shows many voters prefer that option, and he says if that’s the method voters prefer, state lawmakers should not be allowed to eliminate it.
“The great thing about our constitutional rights is we don’t have defend them rhetorically against those in an opposite political party. If I want to exercise my free speech by shouting or whispering, one shouldn’t have to ask me why I’m shouting or whispering, I’m exercising my rights that are guaranteed to me by the constitution.”
Redfern says Ohio’s leaders should be making it easier for people to vote by providing different options to accommodate everyone. Republicans in the legislature who eliminated that weekend say it was too costly and caused too many problems for local elections board employees at a crucial time before Election day. The court decision on voting on the last weekend before the election is expected soon.