How can people vote early if they can't get to their polling place? The answer is they can't.
But in Hamilton County, Ohio, following a vote to move the county's Board of Elections from its current location in densely-populated downtown Cincinnati, the county's only in-person early voting site may soon become inaccessible to thousands of Hamilton County residents. As the above map makes clear, for the members of the 40 to 55 percent of households in downtown Cincinnati who don't have access to a vehicle (many of whom are below the poverty line), moving the in-person early voting site to the remote suburb of Mount Airy could be tantamount to removing their access to the ballot.
You see, early in-person voting makes casting a ballot more convenient, and therefore more accessible, especially for voters on tight schedules, who tend to come from traditionally-underrepresented groups. In addition to extending the vote to the overextended, early in-person voting shortens Election Day lines, and reduces the administrative toll on poll workers and electors alike, thereby reducing the potential for mistakes. In fact, increased access to early-in person voting was one of the key recommendations of the bipartisan Presidential Commission of Election Administration (PCEA) report released last month. The PCEA was established last year, partially in response to complaints about long lines on Election Day in 2012. What makes early in-person voting such an important tool to increasing voter accessibility is that it's convenient; it is precisely this aspect that the proposed move most threatens.
In its current location, Hamilton County's early in-person voting site is within five miles of 59 percent of Cincinnati residents, and is easily accessible by public transportation. This site is also accessible to residents throughout the county, as over 80 percent of households in and around Mount Airy have access to a car. By contrast, the Mount Airy site is convenient to only 29 percent of Cincinnati's residents, and is a staggering 1.5 hour bus ride from downtown Cincinnati. This means that, for many downtown residents, early in-person voting comes at the cost of three-hour round trip bus ride.
State and municipal authorities have voiced their opposition to moving the early in-person voting site. Cincinnati Mayor John Cranely is so convinced that moving the county's early in-person voting site away from downtown will have a negative impact on downtown voters that he agreed to let the Board of Elections use a downtown Cincinnati building in lieu of a move. Secretary of State John Husted agreed that it would be the most "logical" decision to keep early in-person voting in downtown Cincinnati. We hope that the Hamilton County BOE applies Secretary of State Husted's logic and works to keep Hamilton County's in-person early voting convenient and accessible.