In spite of some potential 11th-hour changes that could result from election-related lawsuits that have been filed in Ohio federal courts, local officials assure voters that Washington County is ready for the 2012 presidential election.
"We've been planning this for nearly a year. Our people are experienced and very good at what they do, and I'm very confident that the Washington County Board of Elections will be running a fair, competent, and transparent election," election board member Jim Huggins said Tuesday.
But some issues have cropped up that weren't part of the 2012 election plans.
Staffer Amanda Amos reviews a sample 2012 election ballot at the Washington County Board of Elections office Tuesday afternoon.
"There have been at least eight lawsuits filed related to this year's election, but our biggest concern came from a suit that changed the ballot language on Issue 2," said Tara Hupp, director of the county election board.
Issue 2 is a proposed constitutional amendment to reform the state's redistricting process to be governed by a 12-member commission that would be established every 10 years.
Hupp said election boards across the state had already designed their 2012 ballots using the original Issue 2 language developed by staff from Republican Ohio Secretary of State John Husted's office. But the ballot language was challenged by a group called Voters First as being too brief to adequately explain the proposed amendment, and last week the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the ballot language rewritten.
Important election dates
Sept. 22-Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act ballots will be mailed to military and residents overseas.
Oct. 2-In-person absentee voting begins at election board office on the first floor of the Washington County Courthouse 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Oct. 2 -Regular absentee ballots will begin to be mailed out to voters who have applied.
Oct. 9 -Voter registration deadline to be eligible to vote in the Nov. 6, 2012 election. Election board office open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. that day.
Anyone who has not received an application but would like to vote absentee by mail may apply at the election board office or call for an application (740) 373-6828.
Forms for voter registration, applications for absentee ballots, and forms to update addresses, as well as other voter information is available online at www.electionsonthe.net/oh/washington
Source: Washington County Board of Elections.
"We already had our ballot designed, and it was originally a one-page ballot printed on front and back," Hupp said. "But because of the Issue 2 language change, we had to have our vendor redesign the ballot, which is now two pages long. And the ballot language almost completely filled one entire side of those pages."
She said the Issue 2 language lawsuit would effectively double the cost of paper used to print the ballots.
Other election-related lawsuits are still working their way through the courts.
One currently before the 6th District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati was originally filed by the Obama campaign and Democrats who sought to allow early in-person voting on the final three days before the Nov. 6 election.
Earlier this year, in an effort to establish uniformity for all state election boards, Husted had issued a directive that all in-person voting would end on the Friday before election day.
A lower court upheld Obama and the Democrats, but the Secretary of State's appeal is still under consideration.
"Through the November 2011 election, we allowed in-person voting until 5 p.m. on the Monday preceding election day," Hupp said. "During the March 2012 primary election the in-person voting ended on Friday, and no one said anything about it at the time."
She said briefs in the case were to be filed by Sept. 10, and the local election board expects a final decision will come by the end of the month.
Hupp said her office is also waiting on a decision from the Secretary of State's office determining what hours early in-person voting can take place at local election boards.
"As it stands right now, our hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the last two weeks prior to the election-but that's all subject to change if a new directive comes down," she said.
Huggins said last-minute changes from the state are nothing new for the election board, which may receive 30 to 80 new directives from the Secretary of State every year.
"We're already at 49 directives for 2012," he said. "But that's not unusual. And we're bound by law to follow what the Ohio Secretary of State tells us to do. He's the chief elections officer for the state."
Husted fired two Democrat election board members in Montgomery County for defying his decision to eliminate early voting hours during the final weekend before the election. Both men, Dennis Lieberman, and Tom Ritchie, Jr., are suing in federal court to get their jobs back.
Huggins said the Washington County Board of Elections actions are generally governed by federal and state law as well as the Secretary of State's directives. But a court order may change a directive.
"And our election board staff stays on top of the game," he said. "We spend the first 10 to 15 minutes going over the latest directives and court orders during every monthly meeting, and we follow the law-both Democrats and Republicans."
"We have to be prepared to deal with any changes that come through directives-sometimes from hour to hour," she said. "We get e-mails daily from the Secretary of State, and we watch the state legislature web site, so we're always on top of things and follow the law as required."
Hupp also noted the recent uptick in election-related lawsuits indicates Ohio's importance as a swing-state in the current presidential election.