COLUMBUS -- Remember when the secretary of state wanted to reduce the number of early voting days and limit the wording of issues placed before voters on general election ballots?
No, not Jon Husted, the beleaguered Republican serving as Ohio's chief elections official and the subject of an ever-growing list of lawsuits. I'm talking about Jennifer Brunner, his Democratic predecessor and herself the occasional target of ridicule and legal challenges during her four-year term.
Back in 2009, Brunner and Statehouse Democrats were pushing an elections reform package that they said would make it easier to vote and ensure any eligible Ohioan who wanted to cast a ballot would be allowed to do so.
During an August press conference in that year, Brunner advocated for a little more than two weeks of early in-person polls, with up to four sites in each county to accept votes. (The latter is an important distinction in Brunner's package compared to later Republican moves to shorten early voting periods.)
"You also have the difficulty in administration for boards of elections that people are voting right up until the day before the election," she said at the time. "And as I traveled around the state last year, getting closer to the election, for instance the Clark County Board of Election, they were voting there at the board, and the people there filled up the line … just before the election. Sometimes they're out the door, especially in the cities like Columbus or in Cuyahoga County. What ends up happening is elections workers then are trying to prepare for the election, get materials out to poll-workers, during those last few days. And what you end up having is sometimes election workers who don't go to bed for 48 hours. I don't think most people function that well on that little sleep. And we do want the elections to be smooth, well run, accurate … ."
She added, "What we would do would be to shorten it on the front end and shorten it a little bit on the back end so that there's 18 days of early voting, but to make sure that we're covering all of the people who want to vote in person early, we're providing them with more locations but leaving individual boards with the flexibility to determine how many locations … up to four, which could include the board office … ."
Brunner was also asked about a provision to limit the number of words on issues placed before voters.
"... The expenses involved in printing and mailing very lengthy ballots," she said at the time. "So in last November's election, we did start out with six different ballot issues … the lengths of the ballots were extreme, and it also resulted in quite a bit of postage and mailing costs for the boards of elections as well as the increased printing. Knowing the availability of the poll information at libraries, on websites, throughout the Internet … . we think that this is really adequate for voters, and we think they'll probably appreciate it."
You have to keep such comments in context, but they are interesting, given that Brunner is suing Husted in a case that backers hope will open early voting on weekends.
He's also being sued for adopting shorter language (plaintiffs in the case call it biased, too) for the redistricting reform package that's receiving support from Democrats.
Husted used the same reasoning as Brunner in justifying the decision -- "I would have liked to have placed the entire text as it was written by the proponents on the ballot. ... [But] it would have doubled the cost for someone to send a mail-in ballot back, and it would have doubled the cost of sending the initial ballot out to the voter, which would have generated substantial cost and maybe have had an impact potentially on participation."
(Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.)