It matters not whether a county tilts Democratic or Republican, all Ohio voters will have the same opportunity to show up and cast an early ballot under a new directive Secretary of State Jon Husted issued today. Husted’s move came in response to a growing controversy over disparities in early voting hours across Ohio. In big urban counties, voters were being confined to normal business hours, but hours were being extended into the evening and Saturdays in several more-Republican counties. “There’s no question that the principle of fairness is being upheld today in Ohio, because all voters are being treated equally,” he said at a hastily called press conference this afternoon. Under his directive, county boards must be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the first three weeks, and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the last two weeks before the Nov. 6 election. No board will have Saturday hours. “For the first time in Ohio history all Ohioans will vote by the same standard,” Husted said. “I am leveling the playing field on voting days and hours during the absentee voting period in each of the 88 counties – rural, urban and suburban.” Early voting in the 2008 presidential election had a “patchwork of hours and days of operation,” he said.
The directive also apparently resolves part of a legal dispute between Husted and Democrats, including the campaign of President Barack Obama. The two sides were in federal court today over the Democrats’ lawsuit to restore in-person absentee voting on the three days before the general election. But since Husted’s directive does not provide for Saturday or Sunday hours, that dispute now boils down to whether all Ohioans can cast an early vote on Monday, Nov. 5, or just active members of the military, as Ohio Republicans and the campaign of Mitt Romney want.