COLUMBUS, Ohio - Voter rights groups in Ohio took issue Tuesday with an order from the state's elections chief that bans local boards of elections from calling or emailing voters in the presidential battleground state about errors or incomplete information on their absentee ballots.
Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, issued a directive earlier this month that requires boards to notify voters by mail if their ballots are invalid.
According to the Oct. 4 directive, "notification may not be made via telephone, email, facsimile, or by any means other than in writing by first class mail." Voters would then need to appear at their board during office hours to address any problems. Husted also has told boards to provide accommodations for the disabled.
The order is a change from how absentee voters were notified of errors in 2008. Former Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, permitted boards to alert voters by phone, email or letter that there were problems with their ballots.
Groups including Common Cause Ohio and Project Vote told reporters at a Tuesday news conference that the order will cause unnecessary delays and could possibly prevent votes from being counted. They said they're concerned voters will overlook the notifications. And they're urging voters to call the boards and ask if there are problems with their absentee ballots.
Sam Gresham Jr., chairman of Common Cause Ohio, criticized Husted for what he said was a series of changes to voter rules and opportunities that have left voters confused and irritated.
Gresham cited Husted's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of a lower court ruling that reinstates early voting on the three days before Election Day and returns discretion to local boards of elections.
"We'd like to ask the secretary of state: Can we have a time out?" Gresham said. "Can we just let the people of Ohio have an opportunity to vote -- unfettered by politics and procedural strategies that are designed to keep them from voting?"
The Supreme Court later on Tuesday refused to get involved in early voting dispute.
Matt McClellan, a spokesman for Husted, said the order on absentee ballots was in line with the secretary of state's efforts to make elections more uniform. He said not all voters include telephone numbers or email addresses, but all can be contacted through their mailing addresses.
McClellan also said Ohio law does not require boards to reach out to voters if something is filled out incorrectly.
"By issuing any directive that has boards contacting them, we're going above and beyond what is required in law," he said.