Dayton City Commissioners are expected this week to pass an informal resolution denouncing rule changes at the state level that reduce voting hours, prevent county elections boards from mailing out unsolicited absentee ballots and eliminate the ability to register and vote in-person on the same day.
Some election officials and lawmakers said the changes were made to promote uniformity and fairness for voter access statewide while also providing Ohioans with plenty of opportunities and choices for how to cast their ballots.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, however, characterized the changes as a voter suppression, and she said the measures must be repealed to restore better access to the ballot.
“I don’t think it’s right that they are trying to inhibit people’s right to vote,” she said.
Last month, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted issued a directive that set uniform voting hours and days for all of the county boards of elections statewide. The directive was based on a bipartisan proposal by the Ohio Association of Elections Officials.
Under the new rules, Ohio voters will be able to cast ballots in person at board of elections offices statewide for four weeks leading up to the primary and general elections.
Votes can be cast in the primary and general elections during regular business hours Tuesday through Friday for one or two weeks, and then Monday through Saturday during the following two weeks.
Husted will also mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters in Ohio that have a current address on file. Voters need to complete the application and mail it to their boards of election, and they will receive a ballot, said Maggie Ostrowski, a Husted spokeswoman.
“That means that over 28 days, they would not even have to leave their homes to cast their ballots,” she said. “And let’s not forget that on election day, they’ll have 13 hours to vote.”
Ostrowski said Husted believes that it is important that Ohio voters have the same opportunities to vote, regardless of which county they call home.
“Maggie in Franklin County should have the same opportunity to vote as Maggie in Vinton County,” she said. “Uniformity is making sure all voters are treated fairly.”
Other changes to voting rules occurred because of legislation passed by the Ohio Legislature and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich.
One bill eliminates the ability of Ohioans to cast an in-person absentee ballot on the same day they register to vote, often referred to as the “Golden Week.” The other prevents county boards of election to mail out absentee ballots that have not been requested by registered voters.
Lawmakers who sponsored the bills said the new rules give boards of elections adequate time to properly verify registrations before voting begins or ensure that every Ohioan is given the same access to an absentee ballot.
But Ohio voters encountered significant problems while trying to vote in 2004 general election, including very long lines, according to Dayton’s nonbinding resolution.
Husted’s directive and the new laws eliminate some early voting options and get rid of convenient methods to obtain and cast a ballot, Whaley said.
She said these actions were done to under the guise of equal access, but they are actually just restrictions on voting.
“It’s this joke of uniformity,” she said. “One of the reasons we have counties is because each county is different.”
Whaley said the commission’s resolution voices the community’s disapproval of the rule changes and calls on state lawmakers to reconsider and repeal the measures.