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Voting Rights Advocates Press Franklin County For More Hours
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Voting rights advocates say a directive by the Ohio Secretary of State to county elections officials to not hold weekend voting hours suppresses the vote. WOSU reports a group of these activists marched to the Franklin County Board of Elections Monday afternoon in an effort to push for more early voting times.
“We do want to make certain that we put pressure on our county board of election and they put pressure on the secretary of state,” said Diedra Reese, who energized a group that held signs supporting early voting.
Reese said Secretary of State Jon Husted’s order to halt weekend voting disenfranchises minority and middle-class voters.
“He knows that people need the opportunity to vote on the weekend. Many people who would be here right now, but they’re at work. Right?,” Reese asked.
“That’s right! That’s right,” someone answered.
Reese, with Ohio Unity Coalition and who marched with the group Ohio Organizing Collaborative, want Husted to restore early voting on weekends leading up to the presidential election.
After multiple county boards of elections tied when they voted on whether to offer weekend hours, Husted – the tiebreaker – in what he called an effort to be fair, said “no” to weekend voting anywhere. But he ordered boards of elections to stay open until 7 p.m. during the final two weeks before the election.
But the voting rights group said that’s not enough. Some of the marchers made their way inside the Franklin County Board of Elections to attend a board meeting.
Voting was not on the agenda, but the board allowed time to hear from attendees, including Dave Gervis, who said this is the first time in 60 years he’s ever responded to what he called politics.
“A week or two ago Jon Husted ruled to limit early voting. You now have my attention.”
A former restaurant owner, Gervis offered this analogy: “In response to our customers’ demands, we were open until late in the evening. It just seems to me your customers are the voters. If you can’t afford anything more than 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, how about 11a.m to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday?”
And Pat Hammel, who said it should be easier to cast a ballot, not harder, wanted to know how to answer her elderly mother who keeps asking her this question: “Why is it that my local board of election officials are not standing up and defending everyone’s access to the ballot box?”
Similar comments continued for more than a half hour from a diverse crowd of people. Board members sat quietly and listened, taking notes in some cases.
“Early voting, it benefits everybody of all races, genders, as well as parties,” one man said.
“Take a stand for the voters. This is not a race to the bottom. This is a race to the top,” said another.
“Let the people vote! What’s fair is fair,” a woman exclaimed. “This is America, right?
Afterwards, Franklin County Board of Elections chair Doug Preisse, a republican who voted against weekend voting, said the board is beholden to the secretary of state’s directive.
“And frankly, again, I think it’s a good idea that counties have the same extended hours which we’re now going to have,” Preisse said.
But board member Zachary Manifold, a democrat who voted for weekend voting, said he pushed for the same hours offered in the 2008 presidential election.
“It was obviously very popular with county voters. We had 56,000 people vote at Vets Memorial in 2008. I think over half of the people who voted were in the extended hours and I think the people of Franklin County want it.”
But Preisse said there are plenty of options, and time, for people to vote without doing it on the weekends.
“We have early voting centers. We have two waves of absentee ballots going to every man, woman and eligible 17 year old that can vote by November,” Preisse said. “Folks can drop off ballots at the board of elections and by the way take advantage of Election Day.”
But even these options are not enough for Diedra Reese who said voting should not be one size fits all.
“They need to have that opportunity that fits that particular community and area,” she said. “And certainly urban counties have many, many more people and they want to be able to accommodate those voters who want to cast their ballots in person.”