Columbus — The Republican head of the Ohio House says he’s open to considering legislation setting hours for early voting in state law, rather than leaving it to the secretary of state or court action to determine when Ohioans can cast ballots in person before Election Day.
“We’re thinking about it, very definitely,” Speaker Bill Batchelder (R-Medina) told reporters following an event at the Statehouse this past week.
Statehouse Republicans moved a series of election law changes over the current session but have not dealt with the voting hours issue.
Absent action, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted initially adopted an early voting schedule for the November general election that included mostly weekday polling, a plan he said had the backing of bipartisan county elections officials.
A federal judge’s order, however, prompted Husted to open the polls over two additional days — the Sunday and Monday before Election Day, which were not part of his original directive.
Husted responded by setting early voting for the coming general election at 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on the final two Saturdays before Election Day, plus 1-5 p.m. on the final Sunday and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. on the final Monday.
Those hours will be in place for presidential primary elections and gubernatorial general elections, with slightly different hours on a couple of days for presidential general elections, regular municipal elections, other primaries and special elections.
Asked about the situation this week, Batchelder said he favored lawmakers taking up the issue.
“I would want to make sure that I had input from a number of different groups,” including county elections officials, Batchelder said.
He added, concerning allowing early voting on the final three days before Election Day, “This is a burden for them to get all this stuff done and then be ready for the election shortly after the cutoff.”
Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent), a frequent critic of recent Republican election law changes, said she does not oppose setting early voting hours in state law, so long as evenings and weekends are included.
“Any legislative attempts to limit early voting hours will be met with staunch opposition from me and my Democratic colleagues,” Clyde said in a released statement. “I think we all would like to move on from these bitter partisan battles over voting rights, so I hope the Speaker treads carefully here.”
The Ohio Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recently asked a federal judge to force Husted to open early polls on more weekend and weekday and evening hours.
The NAACP and others want more early voting opportunities, including a restoration of Ohio’s so-called “golden week,” when residents could register and cast ballots on the same day.
Lawmakers eliminated golden week in legislation signed into law earlier this year.
In a recent interview with ABC news, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder reportedly indicated the Justice Department’s intentions to intervene in the Ohio lawsuit.
In response to the latter, Batchelder said Holder “looks pretty thin to me to weigh in on this. I think he’s got all the problems he needs.”
He added, “The idea that somehow or another people who have screwed up … who have caused problems over in the Middle East, that they’re going to come in and help us out, that’s a little hard to take.”
Clyde, however, applauded the federal involvement in the Ohio election suit.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.