Local voters don’t like Ohio’s changes

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced restrictive early voting hours for the 2014 primary and general elections this week and local residents say they don’t support the changes.

The hours eliminate Sunday and evening voting hours. A few Saturdays will be open for voting.

The so-called “Golden Week” has also been cut by Gov. John Kasich, after he signed a bill into law that cuts the period where Ohioans can both register to vote and cast an early ballot.

Secretary of State Press Secretary Matt McClellan acknowledged that for some counties across Ohio the hours are more restrictive than usual, but for many counties the hours are expanded.

“The (voting) hours have not been uniform; it’s not been consistent,” he said. “We have set uniform hours. Some will be expansive and some might not be.”

In Washington County, the hours for early voting will diminish by a couple of evening hour options and one Sunday. Many residents took advantage of evening hours and weekends to vote in past elections, especially in 2012, when Sundays were popular times to vote. In the November 2013 election, a little more than 2,000 took advantage of early voting.

Mike Brickner, director of communications and public policy for the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union, said restricting voting hours is a step in the wrong direction.

“I think that the decision to cut Golden Week, evening and weekend hours really takes our voting in the wrong direction,” he said.

McClellan said the Ohio Association of Election Officials put the uniform hours together. The association is made up of board of election members.

Absentee voting runs statewide from April 1 through May 3. The hours are mostly set at 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the exception of April 7, which is 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and May 3, a Saturday and the last day for absentee voting, from 8 a.m. to noon. There is a deadline to register for both early voting and voting on election day: April 7.

McClellan said the motive behind making voting hours uniform across the state was a big one: voting access has varied from county to county.

“It’s important that every voter has equal opportunity to cast their ballot,” he said. “It’s also important that voters know what the rules will be well in advance of the election. At the end of the day, it is very easy to vote in our state.”

Tara Hupp, director of the Washington County Board of Elections, said it is uncertain if the number of days and hours would have an effect on turnout.

“Honestly, I don’t know if it’ll have that big of an effect,” she said. “The days are shorter and it might increase the number of voters per day.”

Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, said it is difficult to say if the hours would have an impact, but the idea behind restricting hours is to “provide relief to the board of elections.”

“I don’t see turnout soaring,” he said. “As the public, we have rights and responsibilities to get out there and vote. (Voting at) any time, any hour, any day, it becomes a burden to (the board of elections).”

Thompson said the public doesn’t expect to go to other government offices on weekends and that restricting hours probably wouldn’t be the “magic bullet that gets people to stop voting.”

Conversely, some local residents feel the restricted hours will affect turnout.

Marietta resident Audrey Carpenter, 66, said her sons work until 6 and 7 p.m. and it would be difficult for them to vote because they can’t take off work or go in late.

“I think (voting hours) should be extended for people who work late,” she said.

Similarly, Brenda Henthorne, 52, of Marietta, said she votes with her husband who works until 5 p.m. or later and also works some Saturdays.

“I kind of hate to see them cut all evenings,” she said. “If they don’t have evening hours, I’m afraid there’ll be a lot of people who won’t vote.”

Helen Fluharty, 75, of Marietta, said that hours should stay the same.

“I would like the voting the way it’s been; it’s convenient for those who do work and don’t work and I think it’d be a good turnout,” she said.

Brickner said after expanding hours in recent years, a lot of issues at the polls, such as long lines and registration problems, were no longer much of an issue. He said the new hours are too restrictive.

“I think that it doesn’t take into account the life of the average Ohioan,” he said, adding that many people in communities across the state have work, childcare needs and other obligations that might affect whether or not they vote.

“If you want to vote early, it’s not always easy to go from 8 to 5 o’clock on work days,” he said. “It just makes it a little bit harder. I don’t think we should be doing that with our election system…Really, we need to look at ways that are going to expand the number of people who are going to come out. We need to be making sure everyone has the expanded opportunity to vote on weekends and evenings.”

Hupp said that, so far, 41,629 people are registered to vote in Washington County. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2012 Washington County had a population of around 61,475.

“It’s pretty impressive that at least two-thirds of the individuals in the county are registered (to vote),” she said.

Thompson said there are multiple ways for people to cast their ballot.

“Ohio far outranks other states in the ability for early voting and absentee voting,” he said.

Voters may choose to go into the Board of Elections office or do mail-in voting for the absentee portion of voting. If voters so choose, they can also vote on Election Day, May 6.

Despite this, many say they enjoy going in-person to vote.

Vincent resident Renee Hennes, 41, said restricted hours are a burden.

“I thought the whole point of early voting was to make it easier to vote,” Hennes said. “I think it’ll cut some people out; not everybody has the same hours…If they want us to use it, they should make it easier for us to get to it.”