In the months leading up to the November 2012 presidential election, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted came under heavy criticism, not all of it unwarranted.
Husted is, after all, the elected state official responsible for overseeing efficient and fair elections. And not every action he took seemed to us — or to a federal court — to meet that standard. Especially egregious was his attempt to eliminate early voting on the weekend before the election, and he may have succeeded in that, had the Ohio General Assembly not passed a law that allowed members of the military and their families to vote that weekend.
As we said at the time, 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 that’s how U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus saw it when he heard the case and declared that Ohio legislators couldn’t create two classes of voters — and Husted couldn’t implement the law that had that effect.
Husted fought that ruling unsuccessfully, and, eventually, worked with the state’s 88 boards of elections to provide uniform early voting hours the weekend before the Nov. 6 presidential election.
We bring up this past unpleasantness only as a contrast to the good news that came out of Husted’s office this week.
Matter of pride
Husted proudly announced that a record number of absentee and provisional ballots were cast in the 2012 presidential election — 1.86 million in all. And even better news, a higher percentage of provisional ballots were counted than in prior presidential elections. Provisional ballots are those cast by voters who appear at the polls without proper identification or with some dispute over their residency or those who applied for an absentee ballot, failed to mail it in and then showed up at their polling place to vote in person. They have 10 days to clear up any questions about their eligibility, and if they do, their ballot is counted.
Of the 208,087 provisional ballots cast in November, 173,765 (83.5 percent) were counted, up from 166,870 (80 percent) in 2008, Husted’s office reported. Of the 34,322 provisional ballots rejected this year, 58.6 percent were not eligible to be counted because the person was not registered to vote in Ohio.
The official turnout for the 2012 presidential election was 5,632,423, which is 70 percent of the state’s 7,987,697 registered voters.
That’s a respectable turnout, but one has to wonder how much more hotly contested a race would have to be than that between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney to get the missing 30 percent to the polls.
Husted gets credit for instructing boards of elections to mail absentee ballot applications to every registered voter. That no doubt had an effect on the increase in absentee ballots cast by mail, which numbered 1.26 million. Voters who cast ballots during early voting hours also use absentee ballots, and those numbered 600,000.
“Efforts to expand voting opportunities and implement policies that ensure more ballots are counted have worked,” Husted stated. He is entitled to those bragging rights.
While most voters still prefer to show up at the polls on Election Day to cast their ballots, the demands of work and family made absentee or early voting attractive to a third of the state’s voters in November. That was a convenience for them, and worked to the benefit of the two-thirds who went to the polls, because the lines and the waits were shorter.
The 2012 election may not have been textbook, but it was one from which future legislators and secretaries of state can learn. The lesson is that voting can be made easier and more convenient for everyone without compromising a fair and accurate count.