Make Early Voting Easier

Making Early Voting Easier, Not Harder

Editorial: Make early voting easier, not harder
Posted: 05/18/2011 5:55 AM

By the Dayton Daily News

Some people in Columbus want to curtail in-person early-voting opportunities to a remarkable degree. Terrible idea.

Early voting is one of the best ideas to be adopted in the running of elections. And its adoption has already shaped other policies, which might have to be changed, too, if early voting is curtailed.

Specifically, the issue is this: Under current Ohio law, people can vote in person or cast an absentee mail-in ballot 35 days before the election. That’s a bit much. That calendar doesn’t give candidates for low-profile offices a chance to make their case. It doesn’t let the campaign happen. But now House Republicans — including the chairman of the relevant committee, Rep. Robert Mecklenborg, and Rep. Lou Blessing, both of Hamilton County — are proposing to cut the in-person period to 10 days before the election.

And they would eliminate voting on the last Saturday, Sunday and Monday before the election, as well as limit the weekend before that to Saturday morning.

That appears to reflect hostility to the whole idea of in-person early voting. It looks like an effort to minimize the number of people who participate.

The proposal would allow for absentee mail-in voting 21 days before the election, which is a reasonable time.

(Montgomery County and other urban counties mailed absentee-ballot applications to all voters last time. But the bill would ban that practice, on the grounds that smaller counties can’t afford to offer this encouragement, and all the counties should have the same practices.)

But in-person voting is popular. In 2008, Montgomery County saw 10,000 people vote on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before the election. And that was despite the fact that the state allows only one early-voting site per county. Voters overran the county building.

The ideas behind early voting have been multiple: to increase the number of people who vote; to make their lives easier; to reduce lines at the polling place on Election Day and to generally make that day less frantic.

The practice has been embraced as a way to cut spending by reducing the number of polling places, saving $200,000 in Montgomery County.

If the 2012 presidential election is anything like 2008, reducing in-person early voting to a week will reduce the attraction of early voting by increasing the lines for it.

The pending Senate bill, as opposed to the House bill, allows for in-person voting 16 days before the election. That’s a reasonable compromise if weekends are included, with all-day Saturday hours. Secretary of State Jon Husted supports the 16 days (along with 21 days for mail-in), but has also proposed cutting back on the last weekend. He says local elections boards need that last weekend to prepare for Election Day. In fact, though, some election administrators like the idea of the last-weekend rush because it makes Election Day easier.

The state needs to be serving voters, just as businesses have to serve customers. It should be embracing early voting and trying to broaden it by, for example, allowing for more than one early-voting site per county. But some of the politicians are retreating from the service ethic.