COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio's elections chief is touting the ease of voting in the battleground state amid a week of disputes over who can vote and when.
Secretary of State Jon Husted on Friday said Ohioans should feel secure that voter suppression isn't going on in the state. "It is easy to vote in Ohio," he told Akron radio station WAKR.
The Republican's comments came at the end of a week that began with him taking heat for disparities in voting hours across the state. A federal judge also heard arguments this week in a lawsuit filed against Husted involving an Ohio law that cuts three days from the in-person, early-voting period.
Ohio is one of 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allow voters to cast an early ballot by mail or in person without having to give a reason.
Husted on Wednesday ordered all 88 county election boards to have the same early voting hours on weekdays and to close on weekends.
Prior to his directive, local election boards made up of two Republicans and two Democrats were setting their own early, in-person voting hours. Weekend and evening hours varied among the counties. And in his role, Husted broke any ties.
Democratic state senators and local officials representing Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus had launched a series of criticisms against Husted this week for his tie-breaking votes in several large Democratic-leaning counties. Husted sided in favor of shorter, regular business hours in Cuyahoga, Franklin, Summit and Lucas counties.
But at the same time, some Republican-leaning counties had voted to extend hours, which Democrats said was unfair.
Husted said in the Friday radio interview that he decided to step in and create uniform hours and days.
"You'll never have consensus -- particularly this close to an election -- about what the hours of operation and days of operation should be," Husted said. "But the question is: Is it fair? Is everybody being treated equally whether you're a Democrat, Republican, independent -- whatever political stripe?"
The bipartisan Ohio Association of Election Officials has said Husted made the right call. The group says his order accommodates the most voters possible while respecting the cost that counties incur to have extended voting hours.
But not everyone is pleased with Husted's decision.
A coalition of voter advocates, including the League of Women Voters, called on Husted on Friday to restore at least two weekends of early voting.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio also said that while the organization sees Husted's order as a step in the right direction, it would also like to see the chance for people to vote on Saturday and Sunday.
"Unfortunately, many voters will still have difficulty getting to the polls early without weekend access to early voting," said Mike Brickner, the group's director of communications and public policy.
Husted has emphasized that people should have plenty of time to vote. Absentee voting begins 35 days before Election Day, on Oct. 2. And his office is distributing absentee voting applications to every registered voter statewide beginning early next month.
In the past, only certain counties chose to distribute the applications by mail, causing discrepancy.
About 7 million voters are expected to get an absentee ballot application this year, according to Husted's office.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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