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A controversial new election law will prohibit boards of elections across Ohio from opening their offices the last three days before the Nov. 6 election to allow voters to drop in and cast an absentee ballot before Election Day.
That’s a different set of rules from the last presidential election in 2008, when Ohio voters could visit election offices in the final days before the election and cast an absentee ballot.
Democratic lawmakers vehemently protested the rule change. While debating the legislative repeal of a broader election law, House Bill 194, they argued that the prohibition should be reversed.
The last three days of early voting "happen to be the most populated days of voting that we have in early voting," said Rep. Ron Gerberry, a Youngstown-area Democrat, at an April 17 news conference.
Gerberry was one of three Democrats at the event to explain their views on the legislative repeal of HB 194 and the importance of allowing in-person early voting the three days before the election.
Ultimately, majority Republicans passed legislation to repeal HB 194 without reversing the restriction on in-person early voting.
We at PolitiFact Ohio were curious about Gerberry’s claim because it could shed light on whether the new rule will affect voter turnout this fall.
When we contacted Gerberry, he referred us to Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat from Kent and a former election official, who stood alongside Gerberry and Rep. Vernon Sykes, an Akron Democrat, at the April news conference.
Clyde turned over her research that examined early voting statistics from Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton counties, the state’s three largest. The research focused on the final days of in-person early voting before the 2008 presidential election.
We reached out to the elections boards in each of the three counties to confirm Clyde’s figures.
In all three counties, the number of voters who cast absentee ballots at election offices increased as the election neared. However, fewer voters voted the final three days – Saturday, Sunday and Monday – compared to the three preceding weekdays.
The fact more people voted early on Wednesday through Friday would suggest Gerberry’s statement is incorrect. But Clyde’s research also factors in how many hours the three elections boards were open for business.
When time was factored in – early voting operations were open for fewer hours on the weekend – there were more voters per hour during the final three days compared to the three preceding weekdays.
In Cuyahoga County, 10,938 absentee ballots were cast at the board’s offices on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before the 2008 election. In those three days, the board was open for 18.5 hours for a ratio of about 591 voters per hour. Over the three preceding days – Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – 12,552 such ballots were cast and the board was open for 31.5 hours, resulting in a ratio of about 398 voters per hour.
The same situation – fewer voters over the weekend but fewer hours of operation, resulting in more voters per hour over the final three days before the election – was also seen in Franklin and Hamilton counties.
Clyde said it’s important to factor in the time crunch, adding that, as a director of Franklin County’s early vote center in 2008, she would know.
"I ran it for 35 days straight," she said. "We were slammed those three days. Analyzing by the hour is the only way it makes sense."
While the stats show the final three days were the busiest in Ohio’s three largest counties, Gerberry used the word "populated" when characterizing the situation, which suggests more voters on those days. The data shows more ballots were cast the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before Election Day.
Despite that discrepancy, Clyde’s underlying point was correct: the final days were busier. And it is reasonable to assume more people would have cast in-person absentee ballots the weekend before the election if the boards had stayed open longer.
We rate his statement Mostly True.
Video of House Democrats’ press conference on election reform, posted online by the Ohio Capital Blog.
Phone interview with Rep. Ron Gerberry, May 2012.
Phone interview on June 1, 2012 and email correspondence on May 16, 2012 with Rep. Kathleen Clyde.
Email correspondence with Jane Platten, director, Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, May 21, 2012.
Email correspondence with Ben Piscitelli, spokesman, Franklin County Board of Elections, June 1, 2012.
Phone interview with Amy Searcy, director, Hamilton County Board of Elections, June 1, 2012.
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