By Maggie Thurber | Special to Ohio Watchdog
County boards of election statewide are responsible for setting the times and places for early voting that is allowed under Ohio law.
Some counties can afford to offer extended hours beyond the normal 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday, while others with fiscal constraints cannot.
In a nod to local control, Secretary of State Jon Husted has allowed the BOEs to make such determinations, but he warned that in the event a board ended up with a tie vote on the hours, he would break the tie in favor of regular business hours so as not to force a county to fund overtime and other costs it may not have budgeted.
There is nothing wrong with his decision, especially in light of the budgetary problems many counties are complaining about, and with Husted’s decision to mail absentee voter applications to every registered voter in the state.
Normally, such financial prudence on behalf of a state officeholder would be welcome as many local officials protest, rightly so, when unfunded mandates are forced upon them.
But this is a presidential election year and partisan politics seems to trump reason and sanity during such times, so instead of this being viewed as a good fiscal decision, it’s being decried as an effort to disenfranchise voters — specifically Democratic voters.
It doesn’t help that the tie votes have come from the larger urban areas of the state, where Democrats are in control and where a significant number of Democratic voters can be found. In fact, Democrats’ claims that these decisions are hurting their voters has led the rhetoric, while the costs of extending the hours are rarely mentioned.
Husted, for his part, is not happy with the inconsistencies that such local control creates. He was supported a bill that, among other election reforms, set statewide hours for voting. But that measure, which passed last year, was repealed following the threat of a referendum, and Ohio ended up with hours for voting varying from county to county.
Oddly, in all the discussions, no one has suggested staggering the hours. If the local BOEs only have the ability to pay for eight hours in a day, they can easily set early voting times, from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., on a couple of days and later hours, from 1 to 9 p.m., on others. They could decide to not be open on Wednesdays and instead do a full day of early voting Saturday.
Staggering hours means that no county would end up with huge amounts of overtime and individuals who prefer to do in-person early voting would have various options, certainly enough to fit any schedule.
It’s actually easy to do, but if the BOEs did stagger their open times, political opponents would end up without any charges and accusations to cast upon each other.
Maybe that’s why there’s much ado about the hours. It really has nothing to do with voting, but everything to do with posturing.