THE first Tuesday after the first Monday in November used to be a red-letter day for Ohioans who wanted to make their mark for democracy. The date - Nov. 7 this year - is still Election Day, but ballots now may be cast up to 35 days earlier.
That's because Ohio has instituted "no fault" absentee voting, meaning any registered voter may vote via absentee ballot, beginning today, Oct. 3.
Absentee voting previously was reserved principally for the old (senior citizens), the sick (in the hospital), out-of-towners, and jailbirds (misdemeanor prisoners only). Beginning with this election, anyone who is already registered can do it, without stating a reason.
The process is fairly simple, although you must apply in writing and it all depends on the sanctity and speed of the U.S. (snail) mail. Applications can be requested by phone from the county board of elections (419-213-2070 in Lucas County), or by mail. The Lucas County board began printing the form last Tuesday in The Blade.
Once the ballot is received and choices are made, it must be returned to the board of elections - physically, not merely postmarked - by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. For those who wish to cast their absentee ballots in person, the board of elections in Government Center downtown also will be open extra hours from 8 a.m. to noon on two Saturdays, Oct. 28 and Nov. 4.
The demise of a single Election Day is fraught with some perils, but it is part of a national trend to make voting more convenient, with the possible side effect of increasing participation in the single most important aspect of representative democracy.
The downside of early voting is the chance that new information about a candidate will come out shortly before the election that might cause a voter to reconsider. The upside of extending the voting period is that it may discourage those nasty last-minute personal attacks.
Because of concerns about new electronic voting machines in many counties, along with the requirement for a photo identification, election observers are predicting heavy use of absentee ballots prior to Nov. 7. Both political parties are encouraging early voting, hoping to lock in support for their candidates and issues.
This means the capacity of county election boards to mail out and process absentee ballots could be pressed to the limit, so voters would be well advised to get their requests in as soon as possible.
Two dates are important. Again, early voting by absentee ballot begins today. If you haven't yet signed up to vote, registration remains open through Oct. 10.
Either way, don't risk losing your chance to have your say about the people and policies that govern your life. Complaining about the result is so much more satisfying if you take the time to vote.