COLUMBUS — Election Month has begun.
With Ohio under a national microscope, voters begin casting their ballots today with 922,199 of them already having requested absentee ballots. That’s more than half of the 1.7 million such ballots cast in the 2008 presidential election.
Secretary of State Jon Husted, the state’s top election official, plans to be among those casting his ballot by mail. He said that despite national attention, Ohio’s election system is ready.
“Ohio has seen the hottest fires, and we are the strongest steel,” he said. “We are prepared for this election, and things will run very smoothly.”
A federal judge recently overturned a state law that prohibited in-person early voting by nonmilitary voters during the final three days before the Nov. 6 election.
The lawsuit had been filed by President Obama’s re-election campaign and fellow Democrats.
Mr. Husted has yet to issue a new directive setting uniform hours statewide for those days, but he said on Monday that he still has time to do so.
In the meantime, that federal ruling has been appealed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
A handful of counties have set their own hours during those days, and Mr. Husted declined to say whether his directive would overrule what they’ve already done.
Two Toledo political party chairmen who serve on the Lucas County Board of Elections said that agency is ready to start processing voters today, despite delays in establishing a location.
"Yes, we will be up and operational and ready to receive voters at the Early Vote Center," said Jon Stainbrook, Lucas County Republican Party chairman.
The Early Vote Center is at Summit Plaza, 1500 North Superior St., which is also the Greater Toledo YMCA. Voting opens at 8 a.m.
Mr. Stainbrook said the center’s opening, along with the setting of uniform hours in the state and the mailing of absentee voter ballot applications to every registered voter, give Ohio voters plenty of ways to cast their votes.
“It's a choice of which option you feel most comfortable with,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
Ron Rothenbuhler, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, also said the voting center was ready, although he said one of the “special masters” assigned to the county by the Ohio secretary of state’s office said it was difficult, given the county’s delays in choosing a site.
“He said it would have been a lot easier if we would have done this sooner,” Mr. Rothenbuhler said, referring to a conversation he had with Keith Cunningham, who was assigned by the secretary of state to provide oversight of the Lucas County elections board.
The board picked the site on Sept. 11 after the two Democrats and two Republicans tied 2-2 on six other locations in August.
Toledo Democrats held an early vote promotion event Monday night at the Summit YMCA called Sleep Out the Vote.
Public officials, activists, and voters gathered outside the Lucas County early voting site to spend the night and cast ballots when the office opens today.
Speakers at the event stressed the importance of voting, regardless of political affiliation, though there was an apparent Democratic flavor from some.
Mr. Rothenbuhler, for instance, criticized Republic efforts on the Lucas County Board of Elections to hold early voting in Maumee.
Perhaps the most enthusiastic participants were the Cumberland family, who parked a recreational vehicle in the YMCA lot for the overnight stay.
Beverly Cumberland, 75, came with children Dana Cumberland-Hueston and Freddie Cumberland, as well as granddaughter Parris Cumberland, 18, who will vote today for the first time.
The Bowsher High School senior said she’s been following the presidential election closely, so that she could cast an informed ballot.
“I want to make my vote count, and have a reason [for voting],” she said.
Beverly Cumberland said she decided to stay in the parking lot all night to set an example for the young people in her family and in the community to take their right and responsibility to vote seriously.
“When you don’t exercise that right, you’ve failed yourself, and you’ve failed society,” she said.
This marks the first election in which a mass-mailing of absentee ballot requests has been, or will be, sent to all registered voters in Ohio.
The secretary of state’s office spent about $1 million on the first round of mailings covering everyone who’d registered as of Aug. 9, and it expects to spend about $200,000 more for a second round to new voters who register by the Oct. 9 deadline.
While not committing to doing this for every general election, Mr. Husted said he would like to see it happen in future presidential elections, as well as other elections in which turnout is expected to be heavy.
Mr. Husted said his office will not predict voter turnout this year, but said he’s seen no evidence leading him to believe turnout will be abnormally high or low this time around.
There are fewer people on Ohio’s registration rolls, down to about 7.8 million from 8.2 million in 2008.
Mr. Husted said 150,000 deceased Ohioans have been removed. Postcards were sent to about 400,000 people in cases were there appeared to be duplicate registrations or addresses appeared to be wrong, asking them to voluntarily remove themselves from the rolls.
He stressed that his office did not purge voters from the rolls against their will, noting that he must wait until a voter is inactive during two federal elections before he may do so.
Ohio Voters First isn’t as confident in Ohio’s elections system as Mr. Husted is. Last week, it gave the Republican secretary of state an “F” in his handling of his office.
The group, which includes organizations such as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, is behind Issue 2, a proposed constitutional amendment that would dramatically change how Ohio redraws congressional and state legislative districts.
The group successfully sued the Ohio Ballot Board, which is chaired by Mr. Husted, for writing confusing ballot language. But the board’s response was to put the entire lengthy amendment on the ballot. Conventional wisdom is that when voters are confused, they tend to vote “no.”
“We are concerned about the elimination of weekend voting before the election,” said Sandy Theis, a Voters First spokesman. “That was a smashing success in 2008. Overwhelmingly, those who used those three days were people who tended to vote Democratic: African-Americans, young people, the disabled, and seniors.
“In a state like Ohio, a swing state, even a minor change in voter participation can affect the outcome of an election,” she said.
Staff writer Nolan Rosenkranz contributed to this report.Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 614-221-0496.