COLUMBUS, Ohio - Secretary of State Jon Husted on Wednesday set Ohio's first uniform early voting hours, seeking an end to political dissension over access to the polls on evenings and weekends heading into the Nov. 6 presidential election.
Husted, a Republican, directed the 88 county election boards to be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays for the first three weeks of voting, which begins Oct. 2, and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the final two weeks -- except the final day Nov. 2 when polls will close at 6 p.m.
All boards will be closed on Saturdays and Sundays in October under his order, a blow to urban Democratic leaders and civil rights groups that had pressured Husted to require that polls be open on those days. Husted's decision means those counties that had already opted to stay open well into the evening or on weekends now may not do so.
"Today I am leveling the playing field on voting days and hours during the absentee voting period in each of the 88 counties -- rural, urban and suburban," he said at a news conference. "All Ohio voters will have the same amount of time -- 23 days or 230 hours -- to vote in person prior to Election Day. And let's not forget that we still have Election Day, when polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m."
Prior to Husted's order, 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. In his role, Husted broke any ties.
Democratic state senators and local officials representing Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus had begun a drumbeat of criticism against Husted earlier this week for a series of tie-breaking votes in several large Democratic-leaning counties. Husted broke ties in favor of regular business hours in Cuyahoga, Franklin, Summit and Lucas counties.
At the same time, some Republican-leaning counties had voted to extend hours, which Democrats said was unfair.
State Senate Democratic Leader Eric Kearney of Cincinnati criticized Husted's directive.
"While Husted's directive does create uniformity, it still ignores the moral and legal obligation of all public officials to take every reasonable step to promote voting," he said in a statement. "In particular, the lack of weekend voting still threatens ballot access for many hard-working Ohioans. It is unfair that this directive still represents reduced voting opportunities for many Ohioans compared to 2008."
The criticism had been echoed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, which said Husted should act to set uniform, but expanded, hours.
Husted initially said he wasn't sure he had the legal authority to set uniform voting hours. No secretary of state has ever done so. He said Wednesday he consulted with in-house lawyers and Attorney General Mike DeWine and came to the conclusion that he could.
He also emphasized newly available options for voters to make voting this year go smoothly, including broad access to mail-in absentee ballots and a new website for making address changes.
"It's like anything else in life: Don't procrastinate," he said.