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Husted wants to reassure absentee voters in Ohio

System would track ballots online to see if they counted

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Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted wants all local boards of elections to have an online system where voters can track their absentee ballots online.

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COLUMBUS — Ohio should do more than just put absentee ballots in the hands of voters, the state’s top elections official said Wednesday.

It should also reassure those voters that those ballots were ultimately counted.

“With the increased popularity of our vote-by-mail program, we should also take steps to ensure that we do what we can to build confidence in that system as well,” Secretary of State Jon Husted told the Ohio Association of Election Officials at their winter conference.

“A major step in this direction is to do for all voters what we already do for military voters, and that is to ensure that all Ohio voters can track their absentee ballots online,” he said.

He wants local boards of elections to have such a system up and running by the presidential primary election of 2016 when the eyes of the nation again turn to the critical battleground state. That would serve as a test for the general election that November.

State Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D., Kent), who has sometimes clashed with Mr. Husted and legislative Republicans on voting-rights issues, applauded the proposal.

“One big concern I’ve had is the number of ballots that have been thrown out,” she said. “If people can track a ballot so they have more information as to whether it’s been counted, that’s a good idea and one Democrats have proposed repeatedly.”

She would prefer, however, to see such a requirement written into state law rather than rely on administrative implementation. She also suggested the state could decrease the number of absentee ballots thrown out if it didn’t require voters provide so much information on ballot envelopes, which she said are designed to “trip voters up.”

Mr. Husted again called on the General Assembly to allow would-be voters to register online, something he has repeatedly sought from his Republican colleagues without success. Voters can currently update their addresses and other information online.

“My early conversations [for the next legislative session] have been a bit more optimistic than I would have said they were in the past…,” he said. “Half of all voters now in the United States have access to online voter registration.”

Mr. Husted was sworn into his second term on Monday. He has sometimes been a focal point of voting-rights litigation in recent years as he’s implemented voting laws passed by the General Assembly and written between the lines of laws with his own directives.

Particularly controversial has been his scheduling of uniform early-voting hours across all 88 counties, although he won the battle that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last year his office mailed applications for absentee ballots to registered voters across the state. The General Assembly, however, passed a law last year saying those mailings will continue in future elections only if lawmakers appropriate the funding.

“I’m asking the General Assembly to fund these successful mailings in 2016 so we can continue to see smooth operations in that process,” Mr. Husted.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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