COLUMBUS (AP) — Ohioans who have not voted since the last presidential election might notice some changes this year because of new election laws and a legal agreement.
Early voting for the swing state’s March 15 primary begins Wednesday.
For newbie voters and those among the roughly 4.6 million registered voters who did not turn out in the 2014 midterm election, here’s a look at how voting rules differ this election season compared to 2012:
Same-day registration gone
Voters in Ohio can cast absentee ballots by mail or in person before Election Day without giving any reason, but they’ll have fewer days to do so this year compared to 2012. The Republican-dominated Legislature passed a law in 2014 that trimmed the early voting period from 35 days to typically 28 days.
The law got rid of so-called golden week, when people could both register to vote and cast a ballot at the same time. Supporters said it would reduce administrative burdens for local elections boards and help prevent potential fraud. Some opponents have sued over the change in a lawsuit still pending in federal court. They claim tens of thousands of Ohioans, including a disproportionate number of African-Americans, either registered, voted or did both during the week.
The state’s attorneys say in court filings the cut amounts to only three fewer days for early in-person voting in 2016 than in 2012.
Expanded early voting hours
In-person early voting hours for this year were set after Secretary of State Jon Husted and civil rights and voting rights groups settled a legal dispute.
The agreement maintains the elimination of “golden week” while adding some weekend and evening voting hours. For the 2016 presidential primary and general elections, the deal expands weekday evening hours to 7 p.m. during the fourth week of early voting. For the November election, voters will get an additional Sunday during the third week of voting, with election boards open 1 to 5 p.m.
The state’s attorneys have said Ohioans will see 24 hours of weekend early voting in 2016 compared with 10 in 2012.
Absentee ballots arrive by mail
Most active, registered voters in Ohio will be mailed an application to request an absentee ballot ahead of the general election. Husted’s office plans to send the applications statewide, as he did in 2012. But a 2014 law now restricts who could send unsolicited applications and when.
Under the law, only the secretary of state can mail such applications for general elections and only if the Legislature directs the money for it. The change comes after Ohio’s larger, urban counties traditionally sent voters the applications without residents requesting them. Republican backers say the change helps achieve consistency across county lines. But voter advocates and others have argued that not every county is the same.