Possible Husted challenger proposes changes to Ohio election laws (VIDEO)

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published:

Columbus -- A Democratic state lawmaker and potential challenger to Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted wants the state to adopt evening and weekend early voting hours in the weeks before Election Day and ensure eligible Ohioans' ballots will be counted.

Sen. Nina Turner, from Cleveland, unveiled an election reform plan Jan. 29 that includes online registration and absentee ballot requests, updated standards for provisional ballots and authority for counties to open additional early voting sites.

"Last year's elections were plagued by lots of confusion," Turner said. "Ohio, in 2012, like 2004, was once again the epicenter of elections controversy. Our chief elections officer was careless with taxes, spending your tax dollars to hire lawyers to pursue frivolous lawsuits while trying to shut down chances to vote and reduce voter turnout."

She added, "We work for the voters. The Voter Protection Act makes the voter No. 1."

Husted has a different take on the November election, citing increased record early voting numbers and increased ballots counted.

"National and international media joined our state and local press corps in investigating and analyzing our every decision and action," he told an audience of county elections officials earlier this month. "In the end, we ran a good election in Ohio."

His spokesman Matt McClellan added Jan. 29, "On Election Day, we weren't aware of any major issues. For the most part, everything ran smoothly on that day."

Turner and other Statehouse Democrats were critical of Husted's decisions in the months before the general election, focusing much attention on the secretary's decision to limit early voting to mostly daytime hours on weekdays. (A federal judge eventually ordered Husted to open the early polls on the final Saturday, Sunday and Monday.)

Among other provisions, Turner's legislation calls for extended early voting, with weekend hours during the 35 days prior to an election and longer evening hours during the final three weeks of the season. Local elections boards could choose to change the hours on bipartisan board votes.

Turner also wants changes made to laws and directives for dealing with provisional ballots, cast by voters whose eligibility is in question.

"In 2012, though 83.5 percent of provisional ballots were counted, there were about 34,000 such ballots that were rejected, and many of them did not need to be," Turner said. "Almost 10,000 were rejected for having voted in the wrong precinct, and almost 3,000 were rejected because the printed name or signature was missing or the signature was in the wrong place on the form."

Turner likely will have a tough time moving her bill through the Republican-controlled legislature. Comparable changes to state election law proposed by the minority party last session didn't gain any traction.

But Turner said she hoped to gain bipartisan support for her proposal.

"I'm willing to have a conversation," she said, "It's too early to talk about giving up on anything."

Husted has indicated he stands ready to assist on election reform.

"He remains committed to working with legislators to find a bipartisan solution," McClellan said.

Turner is among the potential candidates considering challenging Husted next year. On Jan. 29, said she had not made a decision on the race, though a day earlier, she sent supporters a fundraising e-mail chastising the GOP secretary of state.

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

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