Inconsistent Early-Voting Opportunites Draw Ire

Aug 13, 2012

There’s a controversy over extended in person early voting hours in Ohio. Democrats are crying foul because some Republican leaning counties have put in place evening and weekend hours while other counties with more Democratic leanings are offering early in person voting only during normal business hours. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports .

Four years ago, when Ohioans went to vote in the 2008 presidential election, they could cast ballots in person the weekend before Election day. Lynne Edward Kincaid, the Director of the Butler County Board of Elections remembers that Saturday and Sunday in 2008.

Kincaid:  You would not believe the crowds that we had.  And the line was two and a half to four blocks long.

This year, due to the demand for early in person voting hours during evenings and on weekends, Kincaid says his board is offering voting hours on Saturdays in October and later hours on some business days during the week to accommodate the demand.  But he won’t, at this point, be offering in person voting the weekend before the election.  No county will because a new law prevents in person voting hours then.  The state is being sued over that.  But Jerid Kurtz, a spokesman for the Ohio Democratic party, says lawsuit aside, it’s unfair that many traditionally conservative counties like Butler are offering extended hours in October while other more liberal counties are being prevented from doing that. 

Kurtz:  In some of these larger, more populous counties, the big city counties like Cuyahoga, Franklin, Lucas, Summit, where the big cities are and frankly more people, they are choosing not to give access. And Republicans are using every tool at their disposal to limit access and it’s very disturbing whereas some other counties are continuing to allow these early voting hours. 

It’s not that some of the larger county boards of elections don’t want to offer the extended hours.  Each county board is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans and in many of those big counties, the Democrats have voted for extended hours while the Republicans have opposed them.  In those cases, Kurtz says Secretary of State Jon Husted has been called in to break tie votes and has voted with Republicans to not extend voting hours.  In counties where extended voting is allowed, it didn’t come down to a tie vote.  Kurtz says his party wants extended voting in ALL counties, regardless of whether they lean Republican or Democratic.  Mike Brickner with the American Civil Lliberties Union of Ohio is calling on Husted to make that change.

Brickner:  He should issue a standard guideline for all boards of elections to have the same hours for early voting and we are saying he needs to expand early voting hours so rather than simply say “Well we just aren’t going to have any early voting hours”, we want Secretary Husted to say all county boards of elections should have evening and weekend early voting hours.

For his part, Husted says he’s been consistent in making decisions so far.

Husted:  I’m not going to break the tie in favor of a patchwork of different hours across the state.  I will be consistent in how I break the tie and that is that we will break the tie in favor of normal business hours.

Husted says people who cannot vote in person early at their local board of elections during normal business hours and cannot vote on Election day still have the option of voting early by mail.  He says no one is disenfranchised by his tie breaking votes.

Husted:  Frankly this discussion that they are having right now is nothing but to try to district and it’s irresponsible because it’s designed to make people think there’s a problem where a problem doesn’t exist. 

Husted says elections boards are controlled locally and it’s only when their members can’t agree that he has the legal authority to get involved.

Husted:  If what the Democrats are arguing is they want me to set uniform hours for the entire state, I’m reluctant to do that but I will gladly set those uniform hours if that’s what they desire but you can’t have it both ways.

The Democrat’s Kurtz says the party isn’t asking Husted to restrict voting.  Kurtz says the party wants all Ohioans to have early voting opportunities.  He notes that in 2008, nearly 30% of Ohioans voted early and of those, 93 thousand voted in the three days preceding election day.  Kurtz says the party will fight to restore all of those early voting opportunities for all Ohioans, regardless of party affiliation or where they live.