Wednesday, Oct 26, 2016
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No stamp of approval

County boards of elections and Ohio's top elections official should take all reasonable steps to make voting as convenient for citizens as possible. But that should not include paying the postage for voters to mail in absentee ballots.

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Last year, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted agreed to send absentee-voter applications to every registered voter in all 88 counties for the 2012 presidential election. Mr. Husted initially argued it was unfair for Lucas, Cuyahoga, and other counties to send applications to their voters when other counties could not afford to do the same.

His first attempt to resolve the problem was to prevent any county from mass- mailing absentee ballot requests. But when Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald persuaded the county council to pay for the mailing there, Mr. Husted relented. A deal was worked out in which the state would pay to mail an application to every registered voter.

The secretary of state announced this week that there will be two mailings. One will be at the beginning of September, to all registered votes at that time. Another will take place a month later, to people who register or update their voter information after the first mailing.

Pete Gerken, president of the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, proposed this week that the county should take the next step and pay the postage for voters to return their absentee ballots. Mr. Husted's office says prepaid postage is illegal because it amounts to giving something of value in exchange for votes.

That may be a stretch: Voters who receive the item of value — a stamp — don't have to vote for anyone in particular, or even vote at all.

Lucas County Republican Party Chairman Jon Stainbrook, who is a member of the county elections board, says pre-stamped absentee ballot envelopes would give Democrats an unfair advantage, because they make up three-quarters of registered voters in the county. But by that token, anything that makes it easier in general would give the local Democratic Party an unfair advantage.

Still, if stamps are OK, what's next? Free pens, so voters don't have to hunt for something to mark their ballot with?

Every election year, voter-registration drives aim to make it easier for people to qualify to vote. Many groups offer rides to polling places on Election Day. California has experimented with drive-through early voting, so voters don't even have to get out of their cars to cast their ballots.

But at some point, voters must take responsibility for this basic right. Putting a stamp on an envelope is a good start.

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