Republican state officials on Feb. 21 signed off on controversial election measures that will allow the Hamilton County Board of Elections to move from downtown to Mount Airy, reduce the early voting period in Ohio and restrict Ohio counties’ abilities to mail out unsolicited absentee ballot applications.
Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted’s decision hit particularly close to home when he approved Republican-led efforts to move the Hamilton County Board of Elections from downtown, the central hub of local public transportation, to a former hospital facility in Mount Airy, where only one bus line runs, after the 2016 election.
The Republican-controlled county government wants to move the Board of Elections to Mount Airy to build critical mass at the 500,000-square-foot facility. Before Husted’s decision, the county only expected the county crime lab to move in and take about 100,000 square feet.<</span>
But the issue became politically charged after Democrats, who benefit from greater access to voting in urban areas, slammed Republican officials with charges of voter suppression for attempting to move the Board of Elections — and early voting along with it — to suburban Mount Airy.
Husted’s decision gives county officials the next three years to decide whether early voting will actually move with the Board of Elections. It’s possible the county will ultimately place an early voting satellite outside the new Board of Elections building and keep one downtown.
At the state level, controversial election bills signed by Kasich drew similar criticism from state and local Democrats. Most controversially, one of the Kasich-signed bills does away with a “Golden Week” of early voting in which in-person voters can sign up to vote and actually vote on the same day.
Democrats again charge voter suppression. Republicans argue the bills are necessary to establish uniform voting rules across the state so one county can’t provide greater access to early voters, which some see as unfair.
But both sides acknowledge the political realities: Democrats tend to benefit from greater access to early voting, while Republicans do not.