Ohio elections are once again making national news, but not exactly in the way we’d hoped. County Boards of Elections are deciding whether they will be open extended hours on evenings and weekends for early in-person voting. In 2008, many counties, including Cuyahoga and Franklin (home to Cleveland and Columbus) had large numbers of voters use these extended hours.
In a surprising shift, many of the counties that used extended hours in 2008 have deadlocked along partisan lines in Board of Elections votes. At the same time, boards in rural and suburban areas that have not previously extended hours have added additional hours. This has led to many voting rights advocates to claim voters may suffer because partisan efforts to provide greater access in Republican-leaning counties and less access in Democrat-leaning counties. Perhaps even more troubling is the effect these cuts may have on African American voters, who used these times to promote programs like “Souls to the Polls.”
Secretary of State Jon Husted announced over the weekend that he may issue standardized guidelines that would set early voting hours for all counties.
Today, the ACLU of Ohio sent Secretary Husted a letter agreeing that counties must have uniform rules for early voting. Early in-person voting is easy, effective, and popular with many Ohioans, and we believe it should be equally available to all.
However, we urged Secretary Husted not to begin a “race to the bottom” by forbidding all counties from having extended early voting hours. Instead, all counties should have extended evening and weekend early in-person voting hours so all Ohioans may have increased options to cast their ballot early.
Separate lawsuits are also pending that may restore in-person early voting the weekend before Election Day. These hours were eliminated through voter suppression legislation passed earlier in 2012.
Since Ohio allowed voters to cast early in-person ballots for any reason, early voting has become increasingly popular, especially among African Americans. As a result, the long lines and confusion that marred the 2000 and 2004 elections have largely disappeared in Ohio. If the state rolls back access to in-person early voting, it could bring a resurgence of Election Day problems and disenfranchise countless more Ohioans.