Democrats on the ground in Ohio have signaled that they are ready to surrender the battle over October weekend voting hours. Ohio Secretary of State won't back from his statewide voting hours directive. Cuyahoga County Elections Board member is unsuccessful in the last ploy to gain these important weekend hours.
Each of Ohio's 88 counties has a Board of Elections consisting of two Republicans and two Democrats. These boards vote on any issue regarding the logistics of voting including polling days and hours of operation. In the case of a tie, Ohio's Secretary of State steps in to make the final decision.
Voting hours, which would seem to be a non-partisan issue, became Ohio's newest election season controversy when Republican board members voted for the expansion of hours in Republican-leaning counties but against extended hours in Democratic-leaning counties resulting in a 2-2 tie. Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted intervened by voting against voting hour expansion in these traditionally Democratic counties.
After harsh criticism from Ohio Democrats, Husted implemented a directive that created uniform voting hours across the state. He claims to have voted this way due to budget concerns, but some believe that the Secretary of State had ulterior motives.
Cuyahoga Democratic Elections Board member Sandy McNair states that Secretary of State, Jon Husted, has been "absolutely clear" on the number of hours for early voting and finds that there is no point in pleading to Husted for additional hours on weekends.
However, McNair believes that voter turnout could be increased by taking some of the weekday hours put forth by Husted's directive and moving them to two weekends in October.
"I fully acknowledge the Secretary of State's directive. It wouldn't be right for my board to vote again for weekend hours," said McNair.
McNair proposed his alternative plan to fellow Cuyahoga board members last night in hopes that they would "reach a consensus whereby we would write to the Secretary of State and ask that we be allowed to re-allocate the extended hours in a manner that would be more voter friendly, more efficient and produce a greater in-person turnout at the Board of Elections than will occur under the Directive' s current structure."
However, Board Chairman, Republican Jeff Hastings, told the meeting's attendees that Husted directive is final and that he will no longer discuss the issue.
McNair's proposal for October weekend voting hours appears to be the final move by Ohio's Democratic Election Board members in this struggle. Husted has made it clear that any defiance of his directive will result in severe consequences.
On Aug. 17, Husted suspended Montgomery Democratic board members Tom Ritchie and Dennis Lieberman for calling for weekend hours after Husted sent out his statewide directive. The Montgomery County Board members were temporarily reinstated last week but were permanently removed by Husted on Tuesday.
The hearings officer of the case, once chief of staff for former Republican Gov. Bob Taft, recommended Husted to remove the two board members. Husted is now left with the task of appointing new board members in one of Ohio's largest counties.
According to a study conducted by the Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates, over 200,000 Ohioans voted during hours that have been abolished by Husted's recent directive. This issue has concerned many voting advocacy groups that work daily to ensure that everyone has an equal and fair opportunity to vote.
Carrie Davis, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, stated that Husted's directive focuses on uniformity but says there is a difference between fairness and uniformity.
"What's fair in one county might not be fair in another," Davis stated.
The state of Ohio has had its share of controversy during presidential elections, and much of it has centered around the office of the Secretary of State. For example, following the 2004 election, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee issued a report accusing Ohio of "massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies." The report stated, "these irregularities were caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell."
Blackwell was simultaneously acting as Ohio's chief elections officer and co-chairman of George W. Bush's campaign in the state. He went as far as ordering elections officials to reject voter registration forms that were on the wrongly weighted paper. Blackwell was forced to repeal this outrageous attempt at disenfranchisement weeks after but damage had already been done. Thousands of applications had been rejected on grounds of the paper weight requirement.
The state also became the poster child for long lines and problems at the polls in 2004 leading to new voting laws in 2008 that would hope to create a better and more efficient voting experience for Ohioans. These new laws created extra voting days that resulted in less hassle for voters that visited the polls on Election Day. The laws also offered early voting in October to allow citizens the opportunity to vote in person on days other than Election Day.
Since these new laws and hours worked in 2008, why chance the system for 2012?
The question remains, are Ohio's voting hours being influenced by partisan attempts to disenfranchise certain groups of Americans?