If uniformity is the goal: Stop fighting it, start providing it

In a press release announcing his intention to appeal a decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in a case involving early voting in Ohio, Secretary of State Jon Husted actually provided a better solution to the perceived problem than the appeal.

At issue is whether the state can provide extended voting privileges to some Americans — specifically active duty members of the military and their families — without providing the same to all citizens.

While we would agree that the nation owes a debt to the military and their families, that debt does not extend to giving them an exclusive right to extended voting hours. And it is difficult to believe that the very people sworn to protect and serve the Constitution would claim a right to vote that is superior to that of fellow Ohioans.

And that’s how U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus, who had served in Youngstown before his retirement, saw it when he heard the case and declared that Ohio legislators couldn’t create two classes of voters — and Husted couldn’t implement rules that had the same effect.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine appealed Economus’s ruling on Husted’s behalf. The Court of Appeals rejected that appeal. And now Husted wants to take the case to the Supreme Court of the United States.

There has been a lot of talk about alleged voter fraud and alleged voter suppression in this election cycle. Republican legislators introduced bills in 40 states that would in one way or another make it more difficult for some people to vote. In many cases, these laws were rationalized on the grounds that lenient regulation invited voter fraud — even though there are far fewer anecdotal cases of voter fraud than anecdotal cases of legitimate voters being disenfranchised by new restrictions.

The law was the problem

But in Ohio’s case, fraud — real or imagined — is not even a remote factor. The Legislature wrote a flawed law — one that established two classes of voters, and Husted and DeWine are attempting to defend the indefensible.

What will happen if everyone were allowed to vote during the weekend leading up to Election Day, rather than just the military and their families? More people will get to vote. The downside is that some Board of Elections workers will have to work during the weekend and counties will bear some additional costs. That will strain some county budgets; other counties, based on having manned the same early voting days in 2008, wisely anticipated the cost. The upside is that more people voting early — across the state some 95,000 voters went to the polls during that weekend in 2008 — will mean shorter lines at the polls on Election Day. That seems like a pretty good deal.

Now, to the solution that Husted described, even as he announced he was appealing to the Supreme Court: “Since some boards of elections have already started to take action on hours of operation for the three days before Election Day, I am going to take time to consult with all 88 counties before crafting a directive to set uniform hours should the state not be successful upon appeal,” Husted said.

Uniformity is the key, and Husted is right to pursue it. It would by a lot simpler, however, if Husted recognized that the Legislature was not promoting uniformity in prescribing extended voting for some and not others.

Rather than spend money on an appeal, Husted could have offered to help counties meet the additional expense of allowing every Ohioan the ability to vote the weekend before Election Day.

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