Early voting decision leaves everyone unhappy

Aug 17, 2012

In politics, as in most human endeavors, a compromise solution that leaves both sides less than ecstatically happy is probably the right solution.

That may be the case with Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s decision this week to set uniform hours for early, in-person voting at all of Ohio’s 88 county board of elections.

It was a decision made in the wake of a growing chorus of Democratic accusations that Husted, a Republican, was breaking tie votes in large urban counties – where Democratic voters are plentiful – and telling them that they couldn’t add extra hours and days for people to come into the boards of elections to vote, while boards in 24 other counties – most of them smaller and heavily Republican – were happily scheduling extra hours of voting for their citizens.

Democrats cried foul, accusing Husted and Republicans in general  of trying to suppress the vote in the state’s most Democratic areas.

Husted was running the rapids in a leaky kayak, so he bailed water and finally waded ashore Wednesday with a decision that set uniform hours in all counties. 

After checking with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to make sure he had the authority to do it, what Husted did was this – he issued a directive saying all 88 county boards of elections must remain open from 8 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday during the first three weeks of early voting (which  begins Oct. 2) and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays during the final two weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 election. No weekend hours at all, Husted said – something a lot of counties have done in the past.

Every county has two Republicans and two Democrats on the boards of elections; and, before he issued his directive Wednesday, Husted had broken tie votes in Cuyahoga (Cleveland), Summit (Akron), Franklin (Columbus) and Lucas (Toledo), siding with the Republicans who wanted no extended hours for early voting.

 All four of those counties went for Barack Obama in 2008, giving Obama an edge of about 500,000 votes over John McCain.  The counties that had set extended voting hours gave an edge to McCain of about 50,000 votes.

Obama won Ohio in 2008 by 262,224 votes.

We leave the math to you.

Democrats thought they had a 14th Amendment court case in Husted’s tie-breaking votes, under the provision that laws should apply to all citizens equally. As it was, before Husted’s directive, some Ohioans would have more hours to go to their boards of elections to vote than others.

Wednesday’s directive blew that 14th Amendment argument out of the water.

If Husted hadn’t backed off, he certainly would have had a tie vote to break in Hamilton County, where the board of elections was to have voted on the issue of extended hours Friday.

Instead, it was a moot point by then, but that did not stop about 200 people – many of them union members and liberal organizations – from packing the board of elections to speak their minds about the idea of limiting early, in person voting.

Hamilton County Republican Party chairman Alex Triantafilou, a member of the elections board, called it a “political stunt” and argued that every Ohioan will have ample opportunity to vote early, either by mail-in absentee ballot or by voting early in person at their county boards of election.

His counterpart in the Hamilton County Democratic Party, Tim Burke, who chairs the board of elections, said Husted’s decision settles the argument, but believes limiting the early in-person voting “could lead to the kind of long lines we saw at polling places on election day in 2004.”

That was two years before Ohio adopted a law setting the 35-day period of early voting and allowing anyone, without giving an official excuse, to cast an early absentee ballot.

Long lines are possible on Nov. 6.

But there are still plenty of opportunities to vote early, either by mail or in person.

This year, because of an agreement Husted made in a dispute with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections last year, every voter in the state will get an absentee ballot application in the mail, courtesy of the Ohio Secretary of State’s office and paid for with federal funds from the Help America Vote Act.

And, at least in Hamilton County, voters who want to cast absentee ballots will be able to go down to the board of elections office on Broadway downtown and drop them in a locked box, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But, from one end of the state to the other, voters will have fewer hours this year to go in person to their boards of elections to vote.

Democrats obviously aren’t happy;  they proved four years ago they were very good at organizing voters by the busload to go the boards of elections to cast early ballots.

Republican party leaders won’t admit it, but they are disappointed too, because, pre-directive, they had a situation where early voting was limited in heavily Democratic counties and wide open in a lot of heavily Republican counties.

In the end, it will come down to one thing – which party is best organized to deal with the new reality of early voting in Ohio.