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Cuts to early hours and days another loss for voters, ACLU says

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Feb 26, 2014 at 2:07 PM

Changes in Ohio voting procedures announced this week has generated controversy. Below are five related stories.

Cuts to early hours and days bad for voters

This week, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced new restrictive early in person voting hours for the 2014 primary and general elections, nearly eliminating all of the evening and Sunday hours that served voters and elections officials so well in past elections.

The only weekend early voting hours will be from 8 a.m. to noon on the Saturday before Election Day in the primary election and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the two Saturdays before the Election Day in the general election. The only weekday evening hours will be on the last day of voter registration in the primary election, but none in the general election. There will be no early in person voting the Sunday and Monday before either election.

“These cuts to early voting hours are unnecessary and will serve only to make voting harder for working Ohioans,” said Mike Brickner, ACLU of Ohio director of communications and public policy. “Coupled with the recent elimination of the first week of early voting, this week has been a terrible loss for voters. Weekend and evening hours for early in person voting have served Ohio well for years—why are we reversing course now?”

The recent cuts to early voting are not the first time officials have sought to curtail early in person voting. In 2012, Ohio legislators slashed evening and weekend early voting opportunities for everyone, including during the popular weekend before Election Day. The Obama campaign filed a lawsuit and a federal judge ordered the early voting hours be restored on the weekend before Election Day.

Instead, Husted ordered local boards of elections to ignore the judge’s order, a move that got him called into court to explain his behavior. Husted continued his court fight until October of 2012 until he was finally forced to back down and set uniform early voting hours that included evenings and weekends.

“It should be obvious to anyone watching that weekend and evening early voting hours are extremely popular and have been a resounding success in Ohio. Not only have they helped alleviate the long lines and Election Day problems of the past, many counties have been able to save money in staffing and equipment. Expanded early voting works, and we should build on that success, not tear it down,” said Brickner.

Early in-person voting is widely popular, especially among African Americans voters. On the weekend before Election Day, prominent pastors often organize “Souls to the Polls” programs, transporting parishioners directly from church to the polls on Sunday. Reports out of Ohio’s largest counties have shown that African Americans are the demographic most likely to use early in-person voting, especially on the weekends.

“It’s time to leave past bickering behind and look at the facts,” Brickner said. “Early voting is one of the best investments of time and resources that elections officials can make. It makes no sense to slash these opportunities.”

* * *

A very bad day for voting rights in Ohio

On Monday, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed two pieces of legislation that will make it harder to vote early in Ohio. Hours later Secretary of State Jon Husted cast a tie-breaking vote that allows the deadlocked Hamilton County Board of Elections (BOE) to move the county’s sole early voting site to suburban Mount Airy.

The Governor’s decision was expected by many, but Husted’s vote directly contradicts his earlier comments to the Cincinnati Enquirer in which he said that it makes “logical” sense to keep the early voting location downtown, even if most BOE operations are eventually moved to Mount Airy.

“The job of our elected officials is to expand access to the ballot box not deny it,” said ACLU of Ohio Director of Communications and Public Policy Mike Brickner. “Today was a bad day for Ohio voters. Golden Week is now gone, Ohio voters are less likely than before to receive absentee ballots, and it is easier for elections officials to reject those absentee ballots if voters make a mistake. In addition, if you are one of the 40-55 percent of people in downtown Cincinnati without access to a car, you may soon be looking at hours on a bus if you want to vote early.”

The ACLU of Ohio has argued repeatedly against cuts to early voting in Ohio, and recently held a joint press conference in Cincinnati with the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area asking the Hamilton County Board of Elections to keep the county’s early voting location downtown.

* * *

Ohio retirees express concern over new election laws

The following statement was issued by Norman Wernet, president of the Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans EF:

“We are dismayed that Governor Kasich signed into law SB 238 and SB 205, two bills that will make it harder to vote absentee.

"SB 238 will shorten the time to vote early or absentee by a week. Older Ohioans are less able to stand in long lines to vote and thus are more apt to vote early or absentee.  

"Unpredictable weather adds to the need to vote by mail or in person.  Additionally, retirees are more likely than the general public to need transportation assistance and thus rely on others to take them to a polling place or vote by mail.  Being able to be taken to a polling location for the full 35 days means that a non-driving senior will be more able to vote in person, as it allows them to be flexible with their assistant’s schedule.  That is, they can now go when the weather and transportation are both available and one’s health is most cooperative.

"Removing any days one can vote in mail or in person is unnecessary and unfair.

"SB 205 makes it so counties cannot mail unsolicited absentee ballot applications and the Secretary of State can do so only when the General Assembly decides he or she can do so – opening up the process to inconsistency and unreliability.  Simply put, SB 205 adds more hurdles to vote absentee.

"Older Americans understand well the right and obligation of the franchise. Voting is something my members take very seriously. These new laws will disproportionately harm seniors.

"We are disappointed at Governor Kasich and saddened that he would chose to listen to partisan extremists over the hundreds of calls and emails that came from the members of the Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans EF and the thousands of calls and letters from other concerned citizens throughout the state.”

The Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans EF is a grassroots organization representing more than 400,000 retirees in Ohio.  Our mission is to advance public policy that protects the health and economic security of older Americans by teaching seniors how to make a difference through activism. 

* * *

Husted sets fair and uniform voting hours for 2014 general election

Adopts bipartisan proposal with support of the Democratic and Republican leadership of the Ohio Association of Elections Officials

In adopting a proposal put forth by Democratic and Republican elections officials, Secretary Husted today announced a voting schedule that will ensure voters in all 88 counties will have an equal opportunity to cast a ballot in the 2014 statewide election.

Secretary Husted’s directive issued today implements a bipartisan proposal by the Ohio Association of Elections Officials (OAEO) and will give Ohioans the ability to cast an absentee ballot in person over the course of four weeks leading up to Election Day. During the week, boards will be open for voting from 8:00am to 5:00pm, and on the last two Saturdays before the election, from 8:00am to 4:00pm.

“In 2014, absentee voters will have the option of voting in person for four weeks, or they can vote without ever leaving home by completing the absentee ballot request form we will be sending all voters,” Secretary Husted said. “Our goal is to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat and to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity in the voting process no matter which method they choose.”

For three years, Secretary Husted and local elections officials have asked legislators from both political parties to come together and enact a law that establishes uniform days and hours to achieve that fairness. The OAEO, representing the Republicans and Democrats who run local elections in counties large and small, put forth a bipartisan blueprint for action by agreeing to a uniform voting schedule.

“I have watched as numerous election laws have passed the General Assembly and yet the bipartisan plan I have advocated for has neither been introduced nor adopted,” Husted said. “We have a bipartisan solution in this proposal and it is time to implement it.”

“Ohio’s election officials poured blood, sweat and tears into arriving at hours that are fair to Ohio’s voters.  Our proposal represents a bipartisan agreement that takes into account many different points of view,” Kathy Jones, Democratic Director of the Brown County Board of Elections and President of the OAEO said. “Compromise is a key element in administering elections, and it is something we do day-in and day-out.  These hours truly encapsulate what Speaker Verne Riffe used to say, ‘sometimes the best compromise is when no one is entirely happy.’”

Shawn Stevens, a Republican Board of Elections Member in Delaware County and First Vice President of the OAEO said: "The hours contained in Secretary Husted’s directive capture the most fundamental element of election administration.  They are FAIR.  At the end of the day, we can argue over what is best for a particular county board of elections or another, but that is not what this is about.  This directive is about what is fair to voters and taxpayers in every Ohio county, and that is why this directive will serve the state well.”

“The Ohio Association of Election Officials is as bipartisan as you can be.  Because we are bipartisan, we are not driven by political agendas, but by what is best for Ohio’s voters. And Ohio’s voters and the people who run elections need the clarity that is offered by this directive.” said Aaron Ockerman, Executive Director of the OAEO. “Voters in every Ohio county can vote during the day, on weekends or by mail.  That is fair, that is practical and that is bipartisan," Ockerman added.

Secretary Husted wants to ensure the voting schedule is set well before the general election so that voters and elections officials know what to expect and can adequately prepare. Hours for voting leading up to the May primary election remain as set by Secretary Husted in mid-January. The primary schedule also mirrors the bipartisan OAEO proposal.

Taken together, Secretary Husted’s directive governing in-person early voting; his plan to mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters in the fall; not to mention the fact that Election Day polls will be open from 6:30am to 7:30pm, achieve the goal of treating all voters fairly and provides ample opportunity and multiple options for them to cast ballots throughout 2014. 

* * *

Monday was the deadline for write-in candidates to file for the May 2014 Primary. In all, the Secretary of State’s office received declarations for three candidates. Individuals filing write-in declarations for statewide offices include:

Governor/Lt. Governor: Anita Rios/Bob Fitrakis (Green)

Auditor: Bob Bridges (Libertarian)

Secretary of State: Kevin Knedler (Libertarian)

In order for a write-in candidate with no opposition names printed on the ballot to advance to the General Election, they must garner enough votes in the Primary equal to, or greater than, the number of signatures that would have been needed to place their name on the ballot, which is 500 for statewide minor party candidates. The rules governing the number of votes needed for write-in candidates are outlined in Ohio Revised Code 3513.23.

The list of statewide candidates who have already been certified and whose names will appear on the ballot is available HERE.

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