This afternoon, the Ohio House of Representatives will hold a hearing on a bill, already passed by the Ohio Senate 20–13, that reduces early voting opportunities by cutting six days from the state’s early voting period. The bill eliminates Ohio’s “Golden Week,” so termed because Ohioans can register and cast their vote on the same day, during a single trip to their county board of elections. The legislation is expected to pass the House. Coinciding with the state senate’s passage of a separate bill making it more difficult for voters to use provisional ballots, the proposed legislation reflects a concerted political shift in Ohio toward restricting voting rights.
Early voting is popular among voters and election administrators alike, and Ohio has reported no administrative problems stemming from early voting. Why, then, is the legislature disrupting the status quo by taking something away from voters that they use and like? The bill’s senate sponsor, Sen. Frank LaRose (R), said that cutting early voting is necessary to prevent voter fraud and to maintain citizen confidence in the election system. Neither of these arguments holds water. LaRose does not explain how getting rid of six days of early voting would affect voter fraud, nor is there any evidence that fraud has been a problem during Golden Week.
And, contrary to his understanding, citizens who have access to early voting don’t lose faith in elections. As the Brennan Center found in its October report Early Voting: What Works, voters tend to embrace the opportunity to vote on their own time. Although the Ohio senate voted along party lines, early voting shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Our report found that early voting is well-liked by voters and election officials in red, blue, and purple states.
Voters appreciate that early voting provides them with flexibility to vote during a day and time convenient to them, rather than during a restricted 8– or 12-hour period. As a former Nevada registrar of voters told the Brennan Center in an interview “Early voters are happy voters, and Election Day voters are grumpy voters.” Where early voting is available, voters use it: Nationwide early voting rates jumped by one-third between 2004 and 2008, as more states made it an option, and rates of early voting continue to rise in many states.
And it’s not just voters who want the option of starting early: Our report found that election officials also champion early voting, because it reduces stress on Election Day voting systems, improves poll worker performance, and in some cases may reduce costs. And rather than increase the opportunity for election irregularities, an extended voting period allows election officials to discover and correct problems while there’s still time to fix them.
Citizens’ confidence in democracy is bolstered by an election system that values and facilitates their participation. During the 2004 election, the Buckeye State was home to a host of election administration headaches: horribly long lines, poorly designed ballots, and outdated voting technology. The state responded by passing reforms, including early voting, which vastly improved voting in Ohio. Early voting is a popular and effective program. This new legislation signals a needless return to the bad old days. If it ain’t broke, Ohio, don’t fix it.