Board of Rejection: Husted Directive Creates Disparity Not Uniformity

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COLUMBUS – House lawmakers today challenged Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s directive to force uniform voting hours on counties with vastly different populations.  Using data from previous elections, legislative leaders illustrated how uniform voting hours in all 88 counties creates disparity among voters not uniformity, and how this directive is likely to give greater access to voters in Republican-leaning counties.

“Forcing counties with vastly different populations to vote in the same amount of time, in one single location inherently creates unfairness,” said House Minority Leader Armond Budish. “Setting uniform hours treats all county boards equally, but it treats voters unequally.  Secretary Husted’s edicts are likely to bring back long lines, particularly in urban counties.”

The data shows for example that counties like Cuyahoga and Franklin each had over 50,000 in-person early voters while other counties like Jackson and Paulding had barely 1,000.  In a sampling of 24 counties, the data also shows that before these sharp limits in voting hours, four of the larger counties had wait times between one and six hours while smaller counties reported no significant wait times.

“The data shows that because of Secretary Husted’s directive, it is much more likely that a Democratic voter will have to wait in line to cast a ballot in person before Election Day and a Republican voter will not,” said State Rep. Tracy Heard.  “Secretary Husted has tied the hands of local elections officials in a way that favors smaller, Republican counties and he is falsely claiming that this is about fairness.”

 Rep. Alicia Reece added, “The GOP has revealed their true intentions.  Statistics show that African-American voters strongly embraced in-person early voting in 2008 and the GOP has been out to cut these opportunities ever since. The fact is, under the guise of uniformity, Republicans are creating disparity.”

 Rep. Reece refers to comments by Doug Preisse, Republican member of the Franklin County Board of Elections and close friend to Gov. Kasich, who said, ‘…we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban – read African-American – voter turnout machine.’”

 “This fake uniformity could lead not only to longer lines for early voting in some counties but to longer lines on Election Day as well.  Counties have made huge cuts to their Election Day operations because they’ve become reliant on extended early voting options that have worked well for them in the past,” said Rep. Kathleen Clyde.  “After 2008, Summit County cut its precincts by 37 percent, Hamilton by 23 percent, Cuyahoga by 26 percent, and Montgomery County by 34 percent.  Now their extended voting hours are being cut, too.  These drastic cuts to early voting could funnel more voters to fewer precincts on Election Day, especially in larger counties, creating huge disparities in voter access.  Courts have said that the Constitution does not require this race to the bottom just to create the illusion of uniformity.”

 Montgomery County Democratic Board of Elections members were suspended and may be fired for voting to go ahead with weekend voting hours that the county had planned before Husted issued his directive on uniform weekday hours.  Mahoning County Commissioners voted yesterday to open their early voting center on weekends though it’s unclear whether the Board will hold voting there.

 House Democrats released a chart illustrating how uniform voting hours create disparities in voting access when applied to counties with vastly different populations.  Drawing on data from NOVA, the chart shows the variance of in-person early voters in six counties – Jackson (933), Columbiana (1,897), Fairfield (4,246), Lake (10,194), Montgomery (28,000) and Cuyahoga (54,325) – and how uniform voting hours will impact those counties differently.

 Leader Budish concluded, “Secretary Husted needs to treat voters, not election boards, uniformly and fairly. His current position is likely to result in long lines, and long lines are likely to result in voter suppression.  He should stop bullying Board of Elections members who know what works for their communities, and he needs to stop standing in the way of weekend early voting.  I urge him to modify his directive to allow weekend in-person early voting.” 

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