LISBON - The Columbiana County Board of Elections will be open longer hours starting in October to allow for early voting, but not on weekends, which could change depending on the outcome of a federal lawsuit.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted issued a directive this week ordering all county election boards to be open longer on weekdays starting Oct. 2, which is the beginning of early voting, and even longer hours the final two weeks prior to the Nov. 6 general election.
Weekend early voting is prohibited under Husted's order, however.
Elections board director Adam Booth said they were fine with the extra hours and would make the necessary staff adjustments. "It will mean some workers will come to work earlier while others will come in later," he said.
The additional hours likely will not cost the county any more money because election workers usually collect on any overtime they incur by taking the time off instead. "Everybody is comfortable taking the comp time," Booth said.
The elections board's regular hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Husted's directive requires the office be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 2-5; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 9, which is the last day for voter registration; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 10-12 and Oct. 15-19; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 22-26 and Oct. 29-Nov. 1; and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 2.
Husted's directive was in response to a political controversy over whether election boards should be open on weekends as well as on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday prior to the Nov. 6 election to accommodate those who want to vote early. Democratic leaders and civil rights groups have been pushing for this, and some election boards in urban counties opted to open longer hours and on weekends.
"Today I'm leveling the playing field on voting days and hours during the absentee voting period in each of the 88 counties - rural, urban and suburban," he said, in a news release issued Wednesday.
"All voters will have the same amount of time - 23 day, 230 hours - to vote in person prior to Election Day. And let's not forget that we still have Election Day, when polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.," Husted concluded.
Husted's decision was criticized by state Senate Democratic Leader Eric Kearney, who said "the lack of weekend voting still threatens ballot access for many hard-working Ohioans. It is unfair that this directive still represents reduced voting opportunities for many Ohioans compared to 2008."
Those unable to vote in person can still vote by mail by obtaining an absentee ballot prior to the election.
Booth said some of the election boards - which are composed of two Democrats and two Republicans - have deadlocked on the issue of expanded hours and opening on weekends, which would have required Husted to cast the tie-breaking vote. Husted is a Republican.
"I think it's a good compromise for both sides that were bickering over this," Booth said of the decision.
Booth is opposed to allowing early voting to occur on the weekend and Monday prior to the election for practical reasons. He said that is when staff is busy dealing with poll workers arriving to pick up ballots, ballot scanners and other election equipment. The staff also needs the time to verify the last batch of absentee ballots that has arrived
"Those three days are crucial to us to get ready for the election," he said.
Meanwhile, a U.S. District Court judge in Columbus is to rule on a lawsuit filed by the Obama campaign seeking a court order requiring election boards be open the weekend and Monday prior to the election. Booth said the judge could very well order they be open those days.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.