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Federal Judge Resolves Early Voting Controversy

Federal judge resolves early voting controversy

On August 31, U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus resolved at least part of the controversy over early voting in Ohio, allowing Ohioans to vote during the last three days before the election—Saturday, Sunday and Monday, November 3-5.

“On balance, the right of Ohio voters to vote in person during the last three days prior to Election Day—a right previously conferred to all voters by the state—outweighs the state’s interest in setting the 6 p.m. Friday deadline,” Economus wrote in his preliminary injunction order.

Early voting became the focus of controversy this year, despite a growing trend toward both early in-person voting and no-fault absentee voting in recent years.

Absentee voting was never in question. You can get an absentee ballot right now from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office or your county Board of Elections office. Just return the ballot postmarked by November 5 and it will be counted.

  • The rigged redistricting process, multiple laws to change early voting and even attempts to purge voter rolls appear to be part of an overall plan to give the advantages to one side in this election. The Citizens United Supreme Court ruling also allows unlimited corporate contributions and spending in this election, so we will have to work hard at the grass roots level to even the playing field as much as we can.”

    Patricia Frost-Brooks
    OEA President

But the issue of early in-person voting became a battle after Governor Kasich signed legislation that effectively eliminated the Saturday, Sunday and Monday early voting days preceding Election Day. Also, some county boards of elections decided to keep weekend early voting, and some did not.

Democrats, who usually supported weekend early voting, found Republicans voting with them in GOP-dominated counties while opposing weekend voting in highly populated urban counties.

Secretary of State Jon Husted responded by issuing a directive that mandates uniform early voting days and hours in every county, starting October 2 and ending November 2. In the first three weeks, early voting will take place Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. In the final two weeks before the November 6 election, early voting will be 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Husted decreed.

Uniformity outraged some Democrats, and the controversy grew even more heated after Franklin County GOP Chair Doug Preisse said in an interview with The Columbus Dispatch, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine. . . Let’s be fair and reasonable.”

Husted fired two members of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, Democrats Thomas Ritchie Sr. and Dennis Lieberman, for failing to follow his directive to eliminate weekend early voting the week before. That action led to protests at Husted’s office and a rally against the ruling at the Franklin County Board of Elections. Ritchie and Lieberman are currently suing Husted in Federal Court for wrongful termination.

Voting in Ohio in the 21st Century
A short timeline of twists and turns
A crisis of confidence, then reforms – then reforms undone by politics

November 2000
Presidential election thrown to the U.S. Supreme Court after Florida recount reveals irregularities with machine-read ballots. In an election decided by a handful of votes in Florida, nearly 2 million votes were disqualified nationwide when registered inaccurately by voting machines.

Fall 2002
The Help America Vote Act passes with bipartisan support and President George W. Bush’s signature, mandating an end to punch card ballots and lever-based voting machines. Election officials across the country begin searching for more accurate voting machines.

November 2004
Long lines at polling places keep thousands of Ohioans from casting votes. Ohio’s voting systems are still in transition to new machines.

Ohio adopts “no-fault” absentee balloting in House Bill 234 in 2005, with slight corrections to the bill passed as House Bill 3 in early 2006, making it possible for any voter to vote by mail for the sake of convenience. Ohio law also changes to allow early in-person voting, mostly at county boards of elections.

Fall 2008
Ohio votes under new early voting and absentee voting rules, and more than 1.7 million Ohioans vote early in person or by absentee ballot—nearly 30% of all votes cast. Early/absentee voting minimizes waiting and lines. Barack Obama wins Ohio, and Democrats win an Ohio House majority. An estimated 93,000 Ohioans vote on the last three days of early in-person voting.

Fall 2010
More than 25 percent of Ohioans voting cast their votes early by absentee or early in-person voting. Republicans win all statewide offices and control the 2012-2022 redistricting and reapportionment process.

July 2011
Governor Kasich signs HB 194, which passed on strict party lines. Widely called the Voter Suppression Act by its critics, HB 194 restricts early in-person voting and eliminates some early voting hours.

July 2011
Ohio legislators pass and Governor Kasich signs HB 224, which Republicans interpret as banning early in-person voting during the last three days before an election.

September 2011
Fair Elections Ohio submits more than 300,000 petition signatures, enough to put the repeal of HB 194 on the November 2012 ballot and prevent the law from being enforced.

May 2012
Ohio legislators vote to repeal House Bill 194, which restricted early voting. They leave intact HB 224, which eliminated early voting the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before elections. Secretary of State Jon Husted says the repeal will mean the referendum to repeal HB 194 will not appear on the ballot. Fair Elections Ohio, the referendum committee, vows to keep it on the ballot.

July 2012
Obama campaign officials sue to restore in-person voting the last three days before the election, arguing that 93,000 Ohioans voted those days in 2008.

August 2012
Secretary of State Husted issues a directive to eliminate early voting on weekends throughout Ohio, following news reports that Republicans on county Boards of Elections opposed weekend voting in highly populated Democrat strongholds in urban areas while Republicans in GOP stronghold counties approved weekend voting. Two Dayton elections officials who questioned his directive are fired.

October 2-November 2, 2012
Current window for early in-person voting. In late August, a federal judge rules Ohioans can vote early in-person during the last three days before the November 6 election. Mail-in absentee ballots must be postmarked by Monday, November 5.

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