Ohio considers more early-voting locations

The secretary of state is in favor of designating four locations per county.

CLEVELAND (AP) — Ohio’s top elections official will consider another attempt at expanding early voting, which has been credited with shortening lines during last week’s election.

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner wants to let each county open four early voting locations in the 35 days before an election. Ohio currently allows only one early voting center per county.

Brunner said she will gauge whether there’s interest in changing the law when she convenes a bipartisan election summit next month.

“I suspect early voting is going to be a very hot topic,” said Aaron Ockerman, a lobbyist for the Ohio Association of Election Officials. “I think we would fully support expanding it, especially in big counties.”

Brunner, a Democrat, tried to amend a House bill this year to expand early voting locations, but the Republican-led Legislature denied her request.

However, with a Democratic majority set to take control of the House next year, Brunner’s ideas could get renewed support.

House Speaker Jon Husted, a Dayton-area Republican, who is moving to the Republican-dominated state Senate next year, said he has not decided whether he will support more centers. He still has concerns about a window in the first week of early voting when people can register and vote on the same day.

The Ohio Republican Party challenged the legality of the weeklong period at the start of October, arguing that the process of verifying registrations was flawed, but state and federal courts upheld the voting window.

The Nov. 4 election was the first presidential contest in which voters could cast absentee ballots without giving a reason for voting early. Some Ohio counties, including Cuyahoga, encouraged early voting by keeping their balloting sites open seven days a week.

The county, which includes Cleveland, paid at least $220,000 extra to staff the center on weekends.

About 54,000 people, or 8 percent of those who voted in Cuyahoga County, cast ballots early at the Board of Elections office where the wait sometimes reached two hours. More than 200,000 others mailed in absentee ballots, and about 395,000 people voted on Election Day.

Statewide, at least 25 percent of the 5.6 million people who cast ballots in the election were early voters. Brunner’s office didn’t have a final tally on early voting Wednesday.

The high early turnout reduced lines at the polls and allowed poll workers to close most locations on time.

“Early voting was a huge advantage,” said Jane Platten, the board’s director.

Long early voting lines discouraged some voters in large counties, said Dan Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University.

“The most useful reform would be to expand the number of locations in larger counties,” Tokaji said.

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