Marc Kovac - Here's a partial solution to our early voting dilemma

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COLUMBUS -- Secretary of State Jon Husted and other Statehouse Republicans say Ohioans have ample time to cast early ballots, with extended weekday hours at county boards of elections and unsolicited absentee applications allowing voters to make their selections from the comfort of their homes.

On the flip side, Statehouse Democrats say Husted is trying to make it harder for elderly, minority and low-income voters to participate in the Nov. 6 presidential election by eliminating weekend in-person voting hours and attempting to close the polls three days early.

That's the crux of the ongoing debate about the coming general election. It's hard to walk around Ohio's capital city without broaching the subject with some office-holder or government official in the hallway.

I was in line at the Statehouse cafeteria last week, talking about the brouhaha with Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat from Kent and an attorney who has worked as an elections official.

Clyde has a definite position on these issues. She wants Husted to restore early voting on weekends and the final three days before the election and do everything in his power to accommodate the voting public.

But she's also reasonable enough to carry on a conversation with a cynical reporter who thinks Republicans and Democrats are more interested in scoring political points and campaign contributions than in coming up with any real solutions to prevent voter fraud and ensure all eligible residents can cast ballots with confidence they'll be counted.

As is the case during such election-related discussions, our talk turned to mail-in ballots. Urban voters in particular don't trust that process, afraid that their ballots will be lost in transit or deemed void because of a mistake in how they're filled out.

So here's the solution I offered to Clyde while waiting for my sandwich one day last week: Require county boards of elections to send a return receipt to anyone who mails a ballot, confirming that the ballot is in hand, filled out properly and ready to be counted.

Something of this sort already happens. County boards will call or send a notice to voters if they've made a mistake on their mail-in ballot -- forgotten signatures, for example -- giving them an opportunity to visit the office in person and make corrections.

Boards also can verify receipt of a ballot if someone calls and asks.

But it might instill more confidence if elections officials were required to send out written notices to voters whenever a mail-in ballot is received. Those notices could state either that the ballots are good to go or require additional attention.

Granted, additional paperwork carries a cost and adds another task to already-stretched-too-thin elections officials.

And many voters will still want to cast their ballots in person and only on weekends.

Return receipts from mail-in absentees won't alleviate their complaints, but they might prompt a few more Ohioans to choose the option instead of waiting until the last minute and shouting about being disenfranchised.

I don't know that Clyde agreed with me on any of this, but she was polite enough to wait until after my rant to try to change the subject to Cleveland Browns football.

(Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.)

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