- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio’s election chief has set the hours and days that residents can vote early for the May primary election, saying it was necessary because the Legislature has failed to put uniform times into law.

Voters can cast an absentee ballot early by mail or in person without giving any reason.

The 2012 presidential election cycle in Ohio was marked by several disputes over early voting rules, including a lawsuit brought by President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

Secretary of State Jon Husted said Wednesday that he’s repeatedly asked the General Assembly to write the hours into law, but members have not acted.

“Our priorities should be to give all voters equal access to their ballots no matter where they live, to provide adequate time to accommodate an increasingly busy electorate and to reduce the chance of long lines on Election Day,” he said during a speech at a conference of the Ohio Association of Election Officials.

Husted told the bipartisan group of local election officials that he would use their proposal for voting times for the state’s May 6 primary, in absence of legislative action.

“Thank you for demonstrating that it is in the realm of the possible for the two parties to come together on setting elections policy,” Husted said, in a dig to his former colleagues and fellow Republicans at the Statehouse.

Early voting hours for the May 6 primary will mostly be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays for all 88 counties. Voters will have one weekend day, from 8 a.m. to noon on the Saturday before the election.

An election specialist with the League of Women Voters of Ohio called the schedule insufficient for voters.

“We need some evening hours, and we need at least the last two or three weekends,” Peg Rosenfield told reporters after Husted’s speech. She said the voter advocacy group was sympathetic to boards that could be strained to provide additional extended hours.

“But elections are not for the boards of elections,” Rosenfield said. “They’re not for candidates. They’re for voters. And I think we tend to forget that.”

Almost 1.9 million Ohioans voted using an absentee ballot in the 2012 election - a record number for the state. As in that general election, Husted said his office plans to send absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters again this year.

Husted and other statewide officeholders are up for election this November.

State lawmakers have been mulling other changes to Ohio’s election law, including a proposal that would eliminate a period in which residents can both register to vote and cast an early ballot.

Husted said his priorities for the Legislature included implementing online voter registration and setting uniform days and hours for early voting.

“Some of the other things they are talking about, frankly, are not my priorities,” he said.

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