Elsewhere in Slate, Emily Bazelon argues that voters should not have to wait so long for early voting.
It is hard to be an Ohio resident these days. Sure, all the attention from Jon Stewart and the New York Times is nice. But there are the ads that spoil my college-football watching, the robo-calls that disrupt my family time, and the door-knockers that leave me wondering. (If Obama is sending volunteers into my extremely Republican neighborhood, does that mean he’s desperate or does it mean he’s got a surplus of volunteers?)
But what is most frustrating is that you can’t look at Twitter, Facebook, or RealClearPolitics without reading a hyperbolic, hand-wringing column from a liberal bemoaning the fact that Ohio is a backward, Third World-caliber banana republic just because people have to wait in line to take part in early voting. Give me a break.
It’s true that Secretary of State Jon Husted* is a Republican, and it’s true that he’s fought to limit early voting this election, the result being that Ohio had a shorter early-voting period this election than in 2008. Is he acting in a partisan manner? Probably. In 2008, there were 35 early voting days, including weekends. This time around, there were 19 days total, mostly during the week, and over the final weekend, the hours were from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. (However, as long as you were in line by 2 p.m. on Saturday or 5 p.m. on Sunday, you were allowed to vote.)
But that doesn’t mean that Ohioans are having their vote “suppressed” or being denied the “right to vote.” After all, voters still had 19 opportunities to vote early in person, an option that is not even available, except in extraordinary circumstances, in 18 states. Moreover, Ohio is one of only 27 states who have no-excuse absentee voting. And the much-maligned Husted mailed every Ohio voter an application for an absentee ballot. (The Ohio GOP also mailed out ballot applications, and I suspect the Democrats did, too.) If you didn’t want to wait in line, you could vote from your kitchen table.
A common question I see is, “If people are waiting five hours to vote for early voting, how bad will it be on Election Day?” Actually, there are plenty of legitimate logistical reasons that voters have to wait in line for early voting but may not have to wait that long on the big day. When one goes to vote on Election Day, one goes to a church or a school or community center that is in your precinct, or a similar location that houses several precincts but is still close by. But you can’t have schools and churches open for early voting for an entire month, so early voting necessarily takes place at fewer locations.
Further, you would have a hard time staffing wider polling hours. The kindly old folks who staff our precinct might look like sweet volunteers, but they are pocketing more than $100 a day. That adds up in smaller counties and rural areas with tight budgets.
I still remember going with my parents to vote when I was growing up. Our polling place was my elementary school, and we would stand quietly behind our parents when they went into the mysterious booth and made all those mysterious grown-up decisions. I looked forward to the privilege and responsibility. And I have voted in every election—and almost every primary—since I turned 18, whether it was local or presidential, or whether I lived in a swing state or the bluest of blue states. I think that everyone should have a fair shot at getting to the polls. Early voting and absentee voting are great, and making Election Day a holiday would provide a great civics lesson for new generations of voters. The system could be better, but the system—at least in Ohio—is not broken.
Correction, Nov. 5, 2012: The article originally misspelled the name of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. (Return to the corrected sentence.)