CLEVELAND- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio called on state officials today to reverse policies that prevent counties from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications to registered voters. Legislators and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted have sought to prohibit Boards of Elections from mailing unsolicited forms to registered voters, which may lead to less people voting by mail.

“State officials have begun a ‘Race to the Bottom’ in the name of uniformity,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link. “While officials are correct to desire universal standards in all counties, they have taken our elections system in the wrong direction. Equal access to the ballot should not be achieved by making voting harder for some, it should be accomplished by expanding good practices to all Ohioans. It is particularly disappointing that Secretary Husted has opted to stop a practice that should be expanded for the greater good of all Ohioans.”

“Every registered voter should receive an absentee ballot application, no matter what county they reside,” added Link. “The benefits of encouraging voting by mail are clear. Since the state expanded absentee balloting in 2006, elections have been relatively free of the long lines and confusion that plagued the 2000 and 2004 elections. With another presidential election on the horizon, limiting access to absentee ballots could be disastrous for Ohio voters.”

State legislators passed House Bill 194, which prohibited county Board of Elections from send unsolicited absentee ballot applications. After various activists groups began a referendum effort on H.B. 184, Secretary Husted issued a directive that mirrored the bill’s restriction on sending unsolicited applications.

Opponents of sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications point to the disparity between counties that can afford to mail the forms and counties that cannot. In past elections, those who could afford to send the applications tended to be the most populous counties.

“Secretary Husted could have as easily issued a directive requiring counties to send absentee ballot applications, and provided funding for those counties who could not afford it,” concluded Link. “Increased absentee voting eases Election Day problems, increases voter participation, and helps troubleshoot possible errors in registration. I am hard pressed to find a more worthy cause for state officials to invest tax dollars.”

UPDATE 09.02.11
Secretary of State Jon Husted announced today that the state will distribute absentee ballot request forms to all Ohio voters in 2012.

The decision heads off a potential legal showdown between Husted and Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald, who had announced plans to distribute unsolicited ballot request forms to all Cuyahoga County residents after Husted forbid county boards of election from doing so.

Read Secretary Husted’s press release announcing the decision.
Read the Columbus Dispatch’s coverage of the decision.

Husted’s decision is a positive one for Ohio voters; however, the state will not begin mailing absentee ballot request forms to all voters until the 2012 election. Further, as part of the compromise with Husted, Cuyahoga County will not mail any unsolicited absentee ballot request forms in 2011. This means that anyone who wishes to vote absentee in the upcoming 2011 election must send an absentee ballot request form to their county board of elections.