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Husted may decide Elections Board move

1/30/2014, 3:45 p.m.

With the Hamilton County Board of Elections members in a 2-2 political deadlock over a proposal to move its headquarters to the former Mercy Hospital in Mt. Airy in the College Hill area. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted may be the one to cast the deciding vote.

The stalemate came at the Jan. 27 Board of Elections meeting following a public hearing on the issue, during which Republicans and Democrats expressed the pros and cons of it. Speakers on the Republican side said the move would be a sound financial decision in that it saves the county $700,000 in annual rental now paid for the Downtown office on Broadway, and Democrats opposed it as another move to suppress and disenfranchise voters. The Mt. Airy site is offered at no cost to the County.

Cincinnati City Council members are unanimously against the move, following a vote on the issue.

The proposed location is nine miles outside of Downtown, and it would take inner city residents 45 minutes by bus to cast early in-person votes.

“The Elections Board is investing in a process aimed at suppressing the voting rights of the minority community,’’ said Cincinnati NAACP Chapter President Ishton Morton. “Republicans say they feel the offices are now located in Democratic Party stronghold. As members of the NAACP, we are looking only at the issue of accessibility to a fair and democratic process, and the Mt. Airy site does not provide that.’’

Morton said proponents make a good point about having free parking at the Mt. Airy site, but a move there would penalize those who do not drive cars, since there is limited bus service from the inner city to the site.

“I see it as problematic and ironic to divert the Board office to some obscure place when we are building every means of transit possible to get people Downtown,’’ he said.

However, Board member Alex Triantafilou says the Mt. Airy site would be more accessible and 24-hour ballot drop boxes would remain open Downtown. He adds that more voters in the county will find the Mt. Airy site more convenient, and the Elections Board must, consider all voters, not “the small number of people that this may inconvenience.’’

Democratic Board Chairman Tim Burke says bus transportation for the 40,000 households in Hamilton County where there are no cars makes bus service to Board offices all the more important.

Both sides have submitted their arguments to the Secretary of State's office for review. However, a spokesperson in Husted’s office said Husted hopes both sides come to a resolution. The NAACP’s Morton noted this is a political football for Husted, who is seeking reelection.

Even State Senator Nina Turner (D-Cleveland), who is challenging Husted in the November Election, has commented on the issue, saying that county boards of elections should place early voting locations near public transportation and in areas where voters travel in their daily lives, making it easier for citizens to vote, not harder. This is particularly true for the 40,000 households in Hamilton County who do own motor vehicles, she said.

State Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-Clifton) noted that more than 24,000 people went to the Hamilton County Board of Elections in person to cast their votes early in the 2012 election. ‘’By moving the location to an area that’s far away from the city’s populated areas and not easily accessible by bus, the Secretary of State will disenfranchise those who take advantage of in-person early voting – namely women, senior citizens, low-income voters and African Americans,’’ she said.

State Treasurer Candidate and State Rep. Connie Pillich (D-Montgomery) commented that, “I strongly oppose this partisan, political move and urge the Secretary of State to adhere to his oath and his mission to help people exercise their right to vote.”

Triantafilou rejected an offer by Mayor John Cranley for the City to provide free space for the Board of Elections in the City-owned Shillitos Department Store building at Seventh and Elm streets Downtown.