COLUMBUS, Ohio - Today, Ohio Secretary of State Husted took a step towards improving voter access by announcing the availability of an online change of address system for existing voter registrations. That's one step, but there is a long way to go to making voting accessible, fair and equal in the state of Ohio.
We as voting advocates are dismayed that Secretary Husted and several Boards of Elections have voted to restrict early in person voting opportunities. We are calling upon Secretary Husted and the Boards of Elections in Cuyahoga, Franklin, Lucas, and Summit counties to reconsider the recent decisions to deny in person voting opportunities during evenings and weekends.
We all remember the long lines on Election Day 2004. In counties all across this state voters waited as long as four, five, even six hours in the cold rain for the opportunity to cast their ballot at the polls. Thankfully, those long lines have been a thing of the past since 2006 when the legislature allowed every Ohio voter the ability to vote absentee without a reason.
"Expanded access to early voting opportunities - both by mail and in person - has been hugely successful with voters and reduced lines on Election Day," said Carrie Davis, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. "While Secretary Husted is to be commended for expanding access to voting by mail, it is disappointing that the Secretary and several county Boards of Elections have rolled back successful early in-person voting hours in some of the counties hit hardest by long lines in 2004."
Secretary Husted and other elections officials are indeed turning the clock back. The three busiest days of early in person voting have already been taken away and in person voting had been ordered to stop the Friday before the election. A projected 105,000 voters statewide used these threedays to vote in person in 2008. Now Husted and other elections officials are taking away voters' ability to vote in person all evenings, Saturdays and Sundays during the early vote period. In Franklin County, for instance, 82% of all in-person early votes were cast during these times.
We should also not overlook the significant racial impact these cuts to early in person hours will have on African-Americans. African-Americans comprised 26% of the population of Cuyahoga County that voted by mail or on Election Day but accounted for 56% of early in-person voters in 2008, according to research done by Norman Robbins of the Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates and Mark Salling of Cleveland State University. Similarly, recent research shows that in Franklin County African-Americans comprised 21% of all voters but made up 31% of early voters in 2008. In both Franklin and Cuyahoga counties, voters were sent vote-by-mail applications, but African-Americans clearly chose to vote in person nevertheless. Robbins said "eliminating extended hours and weekends disproportionately burdens voters in counties with large African-American populations."
Sonia Gill, from the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law adds, "We are alarmed by the cuts to early voting and its impact on African-American voters in particular, who as the numbers clearly show, heavily relied on early voting to cast their ballots in 2008. Extended hours for early voting has been the standard practice in Ohio for the last several elections and we are perplexed as to why these counties are not offering the same service to voters in what is expected to be a high turnout presidential election year."
Given the urban counties where Secretary Husted and other election officials have stripped early voting hours, it appears that these counties are in the danger zones of once again having the long lines of 2004, both on Election Day and during business hours of Boards of Elections.Many counties have greatly consolidated precincts since 2008, and are especially at risk for overcrowding. "Early voting has become part of the political process in Ohio. Extended hours and early voting for some communities has become a life blood. Without this blood these communities' rights will be denied," says Sam Gresham, chair of Common Cause Ohio.
While today's announcement improves the process of updating voter registrations, we sincerely hope that Secretary Husted and the election officials in Cuyahoga, Franklin, Lucas, and Summit countiesreconsider their positions and vote to provide early in person voting opportunities for the communities that most need them.