OHIO'S secretary of state is chiefly responsible for ensuring that elections across the state are conducted fairly, cleanly, and efficiently. The office also helps businesses register and contact other state agencies; how well it performs that task affects job creation and economic development.
Incumbent Democrat Jennifer Brunner's decision not to seek re-election in November has created an open contest for secretary of state between two well-qualified nominees, Republican Jon Husted and Democrat Maryellen O'Shaughnessy (Libertarian Charles Earl, a former state representative, also is on the ballot).
Mr. Husted, a state senator and former House speaker from the Dayton area, brings a wealth of political experience to the race. Ms. O'Shaughnessy, the clerk of Franklin County Common Pleas Court and a former Columbus City Council member, offers valuable administrative experience. On a close call, The Blade recommends the election of JON HUSTED.
When he or she takes office in January, the new secretary of state's most urgent task will be, as a member of the state Reapportionment Board, to take part in redrawing the boundaries of General Assembly districts to reflect population shifts within the state over the past decade. That process traditionally has been overtly political, as the party that controlled the board gerrymandered districts to its maximum advantage.
This year, Senator Husted has worked hard - if unsuccessfully - to pass legislation aimed at making the redistricting process fairer and enhancing electoral competition. It failed largely because of an aversion to compromise by Mr. Husted's own Senate Republican colleagues.
It's fair to ask why Mr. Husted did not pursue such legislation assertively when he held the more-powerful position of speaker. But his recent experience tends to validate his pledge to put voters' interests ahead of partisan ones if he is elected.
Similarly, Mr. Husted says he will create a bipartisan commission that would hold hearings across the state and advise him on ways to improve local election operations before the 2012 elections. Such an effort would do well to address the bipartisan mess at the Lucas County Board of Elections, which has done more to shake than build voters' confidence in the integrity of local elections.
Addressing the secretary of state's work with businesses, Mr. Husted has useful ideas that would make it easier for entrepreneurs to register new companies online and get quicker approval of their filings. He says he also wants to use the registration process to help businesses navigate the state's sometimes formidable bureaucracy.
During his campaign, Mr. Husted has spoken loosely about options to abolish the Secretary of State's office or shift its business functions elsewhere. Now, though, his interest both in holding the office and preserving its independence seem sincere.
Mr. Husted's Democratic opponent also has much to recommend her. Ms. O'Shaughnessy proposes good ideas for using technology to improve voter registration and turnout, and for holding voting machine vendors responsible when their systems fail. She places proper emphasis on making campaign finance reports and other public records accessible to Ohioans.
Again, it's a tough choice between two appealing candidates. But on the basis of his broader hands-on experience with redistricting and related issues, JON HUSTED merits election as Ohio secretary of state.
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