A three day statewide conference of boards of elections members and workers concludes today in Columbus, just as state lawmakers prepare to come back to the capital for their first full week of work in this new General Assembly. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports, there are a lot of ideas from those in the trenches dealing with elections and voting.
Legislators have been making changes in election laws for the last several years. So Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted opened the Ohio Association of Elections Officials conference with his list of what he wants lawmakers to take on this time. He started with Congress and the Help America Vote Act, which when it passed in 2002 required the purchase of new voting machines.
Husted: “Congress hasn’t fully funded HAVA at the levels initially authorized. Either provide the funding or remove the mandate and return the matter back to the states and the local elections officials.”
Local elections officials, who run the 88 county boards of elections with an even split of Republicans and Democrats, have to deal with election law changes at the state and federal level. Husted’s comments on voting machines were exactly what Scioto County Board of Elections deputy director Teresa Knittel, a Democrat, wanted to hear.
Knittel: “In my opinion, yes, that’s the major thing. Because our voting machines are, I mean, we’re starting to have a lot of problems with them – like on election day, we had a lot to go down.”
Some counties use machines that scan ballots, some use electronic voting machines, and some have both. Knittel says she’d like to see uniform standards for voting machines across the state – there are two types of machines now. While Husted didn’t talk about uniform standards for voting machines, he did talk about uniform days and hours of operation for boards of elections offices. Husted had set uniform hours in last fall’s presidential election, eliminating weekend voting – a lawsuit restored voting on the final weekend. Husted said it’s time for lawmakers to create one set of hours for everyone.
Husted: “For reasonable people, there is nothing controversial here.”
But there’s a running debate among elections officials about each county following the same schedule – some say local offices should set their hours depending on their needs and schedule, while others say with so many contests crossing more than one county, each county needs to be offering the same access to all voters. Kimberly Zurz is a former state agency director and Democratic state lawmaker. She’s now the deputy director of the Summit County Board of Elections. She’s hopes that legislators don’t get caught up in controversial measures such as requiring photo ID for voters and miss passing less splashy but important detail-oriented bills.
Zurz: “We can spend all of our time and spend all of our wheels on something like that, or we can really try to fix the things that are out there that we know would really help the system. So the focus has either really got to be on we want people to vote, or do we not want people to vote. And you just have to be frank about it, and work toward good solutions.”
Dale Fellows is the immediate past president of the Ohio Association of Elections Officials and the Lake County Republican Party chair, says he wants action on bills related to uniform hours, especially related to the final weekend of voting – and he worries that lawmakers might get distracted by other issues.
Fellows: “We hope that that doesn’t happen, but that’s certainly has happened in the past. And we’re hoping that now that 2012 is over, that they’ll get down to actually the nuts and bolts of the process.”
Husted also wants state lawmakers to consider working on online voter registration and online requests for absentee ballots, and on clearing up rules for provisional ballots. A higher percentage of provisional ballots were counted in the last presidential election than ever before – 83.5% – but more provisional ballots were cast than were voted in the 2008 election.