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Published: Tuesday, 9/11/2012

Expand voter options

BLADE STAFF

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted did the right thing when he pledged to obey a court order that expands this fall's early-voting schedule, even as that ruling is appealed. But the state's chief elections official would serve Ohio voters better by dropping the challenge and authorizing early voting every weekend during the five-week period that starts Oct. 1, not just on the final weekend.

At the same time, the Lucas County Board of Elections must end its 11th-hour dawdling and finally select the county's early-voting site. Board members should agree on a location that will promote, not discourage, in-person early voting by county residents who are most likely to use the procedure.

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A federal judge ruled late last month that the state must offer in-person early voting to all voters, not just military personnel and their families and Ohioans who are overseas, on the three days before the Nov. 6 election. The early-voting schedule Mr. Husted previously announced did not include those days. He subsequently instructed county elections boards not to add them until an appeal filed on his behalf by state Attorney General Mike DeWine is resolved.

Mr. Husted said he intended the latter instructions to ease confusion among voters and administrative problems for local elections officials. But the judge ordered him to appear in court this week to explain his apparent defiance of the ruling. Sensibly, the secretary of state rescinded his directive.

That's a start. But if Mr. Husted truly wants to minimize confusion and uphold fairness as he maintains uniform voting hours across Ohio, he should permit in-person voting not just on the final three days before Election Day, but also at night and on weekends throughout the 35 days of early voting. In 2008, about 93,000 Ohioans voted in person on the last three days alone.

Research suggests that African-Americans, women, and urban, older, and lower-income voters are especially likely to vote early in person. Democrats contend that such people tend to vote Democratic, and that Mr. Husted, the GOP-dominated General Assembly, and other Republican officials seek to make it harder for them to vote.

Republicans deny that motivation; Mr. Husted correctly notes that he has made early voting via mailed absentee ballots easier than ever before. But GOP leaders could show their sincerity on the matter by broadening rather than restricting access to all early-voting options.

The same imperative should guide the choice of an early-voting site in Lucas County. At least one of the sites proposed by Republican elections board members, the county Recreation Center in Maumee, is not readily accessible by public transportation. It would create a hardship for voters who don't have cars or would have to take time off from work to reach the polling place.

The county board's task is complicated by the recent resignation of one of the two Democratic board members; the party must fill that vacancy as quickly as possible. Mr. Husted properly has made clear to the election board members that the decision about an early-voting site is for them, not him, to make.

Just three weeks before the start of early voting, further delay in setting hours and locations would do a disservice to voters. State and local officials should act in favor of inclusion, not exclusion.



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