August 1, 2014

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Secretary of State says no to early voting changes

By Loren Genson and David Knox

The Medina County Board of Elections got a response to its request that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted reconsider his ban Saturday early voting.

The answer is an unequivocal no.

“The rules are set and are not going to change,” Husted stated in a prepared statement.

Medina County permitted Saturday voting in the 2008 presidential election, and all four members of the county board agreed July 3 to allow voting on the last two Saturdays in October.

That plan was upset last week when Husted excluded Saturday voting in ordering all 88 counties to have the same extended early voting days and hours. Early voting begins Oct. 2.

Husted’s schedule calls for weekday voting 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the last two weeks of October but requires the board to close on weekends.

On Monday, the Medina County Board of Elections agreed unanimously to draft a letter to Husted asking him to modify his order.

“We really think Saturday hours are beneficial for Medina County, and we hope the secretary of state will reconsider,” Donald Baker, chairman of the board, said Thursday morning, before learning of Husted’s response.

Husted’s response was not sent to the board.

While the response was posted on the secretary of state’s website and released Wednesday to some news media, it was not immediately widely reported.

“I was not aware of that,” Baker said. “All I can say is I’m disappointed, and we will comply with what the directive is.”

Baker was one of three members of the board who met Thursday morning to sign the letter but decided that wouldn’t be needed because Marilyn Jacobcik, the secretary of state’s regional liaison, had relayed the board’s request to Husted.

“They conveyed this to me, and I related it to our office that they have some concerns,” Jacobcik said. “It was not confrontational. It was a thoughtful sharing of their concerns.”

Husted’s deputy press secretary, Alexis Zoldan, said Husted’s statement was not sent to the boards because he expects his directive mandating uniform hours to be followed.

“The directive is election law, and the boards are aware of what that direction law states,” Zoldan said.

When asked how Husted arrived at his decision on the directive, Zoldan said he met with board members from small, medium and large counties before arriving at his decision.

The directive didn’t stop many Ohio Democrats from crying foul, prompting Husted’s response.

Board members stressed Thursday that they were happy that Husted had ordered that all 88 counties in Ohio have the same extended hours.

Husted’s order actually provides for 14.5 more weekday and evening hours than the Medina board planned for.

“Our concern was that our election hours plan included Saturday hours, so that was our disappointment,” Democratic board member Pamela Miller said.

Medina County elections officials said that during the 2008 presidential election, 7.6 percent of the people who voted early in-person cast their ballots on the two Saturdays the board office was open.
Husted, in his statement, said his plan provided more than enough time for voters.

“This year with the combination of absentee ballots and early in-person voting, Ohioans will have more access to voting than ever before,” he said. “Early voting starts 35 days before the election and there are more than 750 hours to vote by mail and 230 hours to vote in person, plus all day on Election Day.”

Republican board member Teresa J. Cotman attended the meeting, but the other Republican on the board, Bill Heck, was absent. Heck, reached by phone, said the board’s intent was never to formally oppose Husted directive, just voice their disappointment.

“We were disappointed it wasn’t Saturday,” Heck said. “Although we manage the board locally, we all take direction from the secretary of state.”

Heck said the board never created the draft letter they had discussed last week.

“In this case, it’s a directive and we’re not going to change it,” he said.

Elsewhere in the state

If the Medina County elections board went ahead with its letter, it would have been the only full board to submit a letter voicing its concerns with Husted.

A spokesman for Husted said his office has received letters from only two counties — two Democrats from the Hamilton County Board of Elections and one member of the Adams County elections board sent letters outlining concerns over Husted’s directive on voting hours.

But officials in some other counties have voiced disapproval over cutting weekend voting hours.

Mahoning County commissioners agreed to extend their board of elections building’s hours of operation on weekends, in hopes that election officials would permit early voting Saturdays and Sundays in October.

The situation in Dayton’s Montgomery County is more heated.

Two Democratic members of the Montgomery elections board are waiting to find out if they will lose their jobs after they voted to extend early voting hours to some Saturdays and Sundays, according to The Associated Press.

Husted suspended the two Democrats, Thomas Ritchie Sr. and Dennis Lieberman, saying they failed to act consistently with his earlier directive.

Their proposal was largely symbolic because the two Republican members voted against the plan. Husted moved quickly last Friday to break the tie by siding with the GOP members.

On Thursday, Husted temporarily lifted their suspension so the board could continue to operate.

An administrative hearing officer said Monday a decision on whether Ritche and Lieberman keep their jobs would be made by the end of this week.

Reporter Michelle Sprehe contributed to this report.

Contact Lorea Genson at (330) 721-4065 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com. Contact David Knox at (330) 721-4065 or dknox@medina-gazette.com.