COLUMBUS — In-person early voting in all of Ohio’s 88 counties will be confined to limited operating hours under a statewide directive issued today by Secretary of State Jon Husted.
The move puts all counties on the same page, eliminating the scheduling patchwork seen across the state.
The Republican secretary of state has faced criticism from Democrats for breaking 2-2 ties by boards of elections in several urban counties in favor of adding no extra weekday or weekend hours to accommodate walk-ins.
Meanwhile, some 21 other counties had been able to reach agreement on expanded hours, including weekends. They will now have to align their plans to match Mr. Husted’s directive.
The directive will add some later weeknight hours but no weekend days and will generally be longer than the 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. regular hours Monday through Friday in Lucas County as set under Mr. Husted’s tie-breaking vote last week.
“It is easy to vote in Ohio,” Mr. Husted said. “You can start voting 35 days in advance by absentee ballot or in person. Every single voter will receive an absentee ballot request, and if they fill that out and turn it in, they will have more than 750 hours to vote without ever leaving their home.
“Ohio’s system of elections with this announcement will now be fair and secure and accessible for all, but they will also be uniform,” he said. “I think that creates an element of fairness that has been missing from Ohio’s election system in the past and has now been restored.”
Mr. Husted had previously noted that state law neither denied him nor granted him expressed authority to issue a directive. He ultimately determined that he did have that authority.
Last year he supported a Republican-passed bill that set specific hours, but that law was later repealed when it faced a Democrat-led voter referendum. That had the effect of allowing the system to revert back to one in which each county board of elections set their own early voting schedules.
Even though the new hours are longer than those Mr. Husted previously set while breaking ties in Lucas, Cuyahoga, Summit, Hamilton, and Franklin counties, today’s directive still faced Democratic criticism.
Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo) already had a press conference scheduled for Thursday to criticize limiting early voting hours before Mr. Husted announced his directive. She said she was “not at all pleased” by the secretary of state’s latest decision.
“The big push was for weekends when people had more time,” she said. “While 5:00 is certainly better than previously, many people will not be able to get to early voting locations by 5 p.m. There are those who work from 8 to 5, moms who have to pick up children from daycare, people who must get transportation, all sorts of things that necessitate citizens needing extra time.
“Quite frankly, I feel people in these powerful positions to make these rules are creating an answer to a problem that does not exist,” Ms. Brown said. “I cannot understand why we cannot continue the way we have these last few years.”
Under Ohio law, voters may begin mailing in absentee ballots or casting them in person at designated sites beginning on Oct. 2, 35 days before the Nov. 6 election.
Under Mr. Husted’s directive, board of elections must be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday during the first three weeks of this period, Oct. 2 through Oct. 19; and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday during the last two weeks, Oct. 22 through Nov. 2.
The exceptions would be Monday, Oct. 8 when offices will be closed for Columbus Day; Tuesday, Oct. 9 when boards must already remain open until 9 p.m. for the voter registration deadline, and Friday, Nov. 2 when offices must remain open until 6 p.m., the time under Ohio law when in-person early voting closes for this election for all but military personnel and their families.
The American Civil Liberties Union called Mr. Husted’s move a step in the right direction, but said it still would like to see weekend voting.
“The expansion of absentee and early voting opportunities has led to record voter turnouts while helping to protect against the long lines and allegations of misconduct that have plagued so many of our past elections” said spokesman Mike Brickner.
Mr. Husted’s directive does not touch on the current legal ban on in-person early voting during the three days immediately preceding the election, something that is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit that was argued today by President Obama’s reelection campaign.