By Maggie Thurber | Special to Ohio Watchdog
Facing criticism over a lack of uniformity across the state, Secretary of State Jon Husted issued a directive to all boards of election setting standard hours for early voting in Ohio.
The election boards, which consist of two Republicans and two Democrats, had been setting their own hours based upon local considerations. This resulted in some counties with evening and weekend hours and others without.
Democrats complained that counties with weekend hours were primarily Republican-leaning. It was presented that Republicans were going to get more hours to vote, while Democrats were being limited, resulting in claims of voter suppression.
A DailyKos post written by calebfaux, who claims to be a member of the Hamilton County BOE, called it a “troubling pattern:”
“Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) and Summit County (Akron) have been limited to ‘normal business hours’ while at the same time big Republican suburban ring counties are voting to be open evenings and weekends. The implications are obvious. If you are a working stiff in those counties there is no need for extra hours to accommodate you. But if you are working stiff in Butler County or Warren County, reliably Republican counties then by all means your convenience must be accommodated. Same is true in Medina and Portage Counties near Cleveland.
“This is something that is emerging on a County by County basis. In Ohio Boards of Elections are made up of 2 Democrats and 2 Republicans. Any tie votes are broken by the Secretary of State. So in Cleveland and Akron Republicans voted against expanded hours and the SOS broke the tie in their favor. But in Butler, Warren, Medina and Portage Republicans were in favor of expanded hours and Democrats were happy to support that. Thus no tie.
“A pattern is emerging that is troubling.”
Several Democratic legislators, in a letter to Husted, asked specifically for uniformity and fair and equal access to early voting hours in the state.
After consulting with the attorney general to ensure he had the authority, Husted issued a directive, requiring all early voting centers have the same hours, totaling 230 hours:
- From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays from Oct. 2 to Oct 19, except for Oct. 9, the day after a holiday, when they will be open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.;
- From 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays from Oct. 20 to Nov. 1;
- Per Ohio law, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 2.
The directive accommodates the desire for additional time, while keeping in mind the budgets of counties that don’t have the fiscal flexibility to pay overtime to be open evenings and weekends.
Short of staggering hours, it is probably the best alternative.
But some people are never satisfied.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern characterized the directive as “slashing hours,” because some counties had planned to be open on weekends. But for other counties, this is an increase in time, though Redfern ignored that fact.
He said it would “… limit voter access, rather than help Ohioans exercise one of their most fundamental rights.”
It’s hard to see how 230 hours of voting time even remotely limits voter access.
State Sen. Edna Brown, D-District 11, in keeping with the previous claims, said it was an effort to suppress the vote “especially in the urban areas which are primarily Democrat.”
“People should not have to make a choice between going to work or taking time off to vote,” she said.
This is a false choice. Voters don’t have to choose between working and voting, since they can request and use an absentee ballot. But acknowledging that would ruin the faux outrage.
State Sen. Nina Turner, D-District 25, issued this statement:
“While I am pleased that Secretary of State Husted has decided to provide for uniform extended early voting hours during the this year’s election, his directive does not go far enough. It will still be harder to vote in Cuyahoga County than it has been in the past, when voters had the option of casting ballots on Saturdays and Sundays.”
But Ron Rothenbuhler, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party and Lucas County BOE, had a different take. He told The Blade, “Any improvement to provide an opportunity for more hours of availability is great. I wish we would have included some weekends in there, but it’s better to get something rather than nothing.”
And the Ohio Association of Elections Officials issued a statement, saying it was pleased with the compromise. Executive Director Aaron Ockerman said in statement:
“In truth there are probably as many solutions to this situation as there are counties in Ohio. In choosing the hours of operation that he did, Secretary Husted effectively found middle ground to accommodate as many voters as possible while still respecting Ohio’s taxpayers and they burden they bear in funding expanded voting hours.”
Husted hoped the uniform hours would solve the problem, but it created a new issue.
Thomas Ritchie Sr. and Dennis Lieberman, the two Democrats on the Montgomery County BOE, refused to follow the early-hours directive. In a 2-2 vote, they continued to support the weekend hours they established prior to the directive.
Husted suspended them and ordered them to appear at a Monday hearing to explain why they shouldn’t be permanently removed for nonfeasance.
Apparently, they want uniformity — just not this uniformity.