Democrats Want Bill That Sets Minimum Early Voting Hours

Clevelanders cast votes at a polling place in the city's Central neighborhood May 2014. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
Clevelanders cast votes at a polling place in the city's Central neighborhood May 2014. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
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Ohio Republicans often point out there are more early voting options here than in many other states. Voters in Ohio can cast a ballot by mail or they can vote in person at local boards of elections, on some evenings and during some hours on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day.

The Republican-dominated legislature passed laws that did away with some weekend and evening hours, but a federal court judge recently ruled some of those should be restored.

Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted is appealing that ruling. But the Democrat who’d like to replace him, State Sen. Nina Turner, said the state shouldn’t appeal it.

And Turner is joining other Democratic Senators in calling for a bill that would set default voting hours throughout the state at local boards of elections.

“Why are we going backwards?" Turner said. "What is wrong with the progress that we have made in the state of Ohio? And to put a finer point on that, the whole notion that Ohio should be compared to other states. We should be the gold standard. But that’s just like somebody saying that I robbed your house and I took everything out of your house, but you still have your roof so why are you complaining. It is a faulty premise. It is wrong.”

But Husted said Ohio still has plenty of early voting options, even with restrictions passed into law recently. And he said the federal judge who ordered Ohio to go back to the old rules and told the legislature to put them into law is wrong.

“The judge is contradicting himself," Husted said. "In an earlier ruling, he said that we had to have fair and uniform hours across the state of Ohio. And in this ruling, he says, well, the 88 counties can go set their own days and hours for voting. That’s not fair. That’s not equal. That treats voters in one county different than another county. It has the opportunity to set essentially different rules in all 88 counties. And I have always believed that Mary Smith living in Franklin County should vote by the same rules as Mary Smith living in Hamilton County. And this really undermines that whole principle of fairness and equality.”

Democrats say it’s unfair to treat counties the same when large counties have different problems than smaller ones. But Husted notes there are a lot of options that voters can use, including voting by mail. And he said all of the early voting options have been added in just the last decade.

“Remember, in 2004, we voted on one day, and in 2012, we voted for 35 days," he said, "and more people voted in 2004 than they did in 2012.”

It is true that over 89,000 more Ohioans voted in 2004 than in 2012. But Turner said the 2004 election was historic because so many voters didn’t get to cast ballots.

“People were in long lines for hours, and predominately in urban areas where the population is, 6 and 8 hours just to go vote," Turner said. "Voting shouldn’t take all day. And we do know that several hundred, or at least 170,000 -- up to 170,000 people, depending on which study you read, walked away and said they couldn’t stand in line to vote anymore. But Ohio corrected that. The legislature, in a bipartisan way, corrected that.”

But in the last few years, the courts have been called upon to make corrections to new laws that reign in some of those voting opportunities that were enacted during the past decade.

And a federal court will likely be weighing in on the early voting issue again in the coming days as an appeals court considers the lower court ruling that restores cuts.

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