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Ohio Secretary of State Sets Uniform Voting Hours for Counties

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Aug. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Ohio’s 88 counties will have uniform early voting hours to ensure residents casting ballots in the presidential election are treated equally, Secretary of State Jon Husted said.

The Ohio Democratic Party had complained that hours for early in-person voting by absentee ballot before the Nov. 6 election were being expanded in counties that lean Republican and not in Democratic ones, to help presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Absentee voting starts 35 days before the election in Ohio, and Husted directed that election offices remain open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the first three weeks and until 7 p.m. on weekdays in the final two.

“All Ohioans will vote by the same standards,” Husted, a first-term Republican, said during a news briefing in Columbus.

Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania are among states where changes in voting rules by Republican-controlled legislatures are being challenged because Democrats say they threaten President Barack Obama’s re-election.

Ohio puts two Democrats and two Republicans in charge of each county elections board, and the secretary of state breaks tie votes.

Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, had said Republican election-board members were allowing extended early-voting in several Republican-leaning counties but not in Democratic ones -- among them the state’s two largest, Cuyahoga and Franklin. That created 2-2 ties that Husted broke.

Voting Hordes

Redfern issued a statement in response to the directive criticizing the secretary for eliminating the possibility of early in-person voting on weekends. He said Republicans “have done everything they can to limit voting access.”

Husted said he spoke with county elections officials and concluded that expanded weeknight hours were sufficient, considering the limited financial resources in many counties.

The Obama campaign has sued over another facet of Ohio’s law, claiming it violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection by giving troops and certain overseas voters three more early voting days than other Ohioans. Oral arguments were held on that lawsuit in Columbus today.

This year, early voting in Florida, the country’s biggest swing state, will end sooner under a new law that Democrats have sued to block, claiming it’s likely to hurt minority-voter turnout. And in Pennsylvania, new photo-identification rules burden the poor and elderly, according to a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Ohio, the seventh-most-populous state and a battleground with 18 electoral votes, has voted for the winner in every presidential election since 1964. Obama won it in 2008 with 51.5 percent of the vote.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Niquette in Columbus, Ohio at mniquette@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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