CINCINNATI -- More organizations are joining the effort to oppose a proposal to move the Hamilton County Board of Elections away from downtown Cincinnati.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area said Thursday that early voting services should remain downtown.
Neither group objected to moving the board’s administrative functions to a former hospital site in Mount Airy.
But early voting and petition filing for candidates and ballot issues should be kept in a centrally located location, the groups said.
Many poor residents live in the urban core and don’t own vehicles, said Gary Daniels, the ACLU of Ohio’s associate director. Only one bus line runs from downtown to Mount Airy, making access difficult for them.
“This isn't a complicated issue. It's all about access for voters,” Daniels said. “The Board of Elections doesn't exist to make the (board members’) lives easier. The Board of Elections exists for voters.
“People shouldn't have to travel for two or three hours over several buses to get to Mount Airy,” he added.
The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan group that promotes greater involvement in government, said making voter access easier should be the principle guiding any decision.
“Ensuring all citizens have access to voting is our highest priority,” said Don Rhoad, the league’s co-president.
“We are asking Board of Election members to rise above their political differences and act in the best interests of all Hamilton County voters,” said Helen Rhoad, league co-president.
The ACLU hasn’t ruled out filing a civil rights lawsuit if the Board of Elections does move to Mount Airy, Daniels said.
“We are examining all options if they move to the new location,” Daniels said. “We look at everything when these types of situations pop up, but we're not at that point yet.”
Also, the NAACP’s local chapter is consulting with the organization’s national office about filing a lawsuit against the Board of Elections if the move ultimately is approved.
The League of Women Voters is optimistic a deal can be reached and legal action won’t be necessary.
Late last month, the Hamilton County Board of Elections deadlocked 2-2, along party lines, about moving the board’s operations.
The two Republican board members – Alex Triantafilou and Chip Gerhardt – favored the move. They said it would allow the board to have more space and save money on rent.
The two Democratic board members – Tim Burke and Caleb Faux – were opposed. They said moving the offices to a suburban location would disenfranchise voters who depend on bus service for early voting.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who breaks tie-votes among boards of elections, will now decide the issue. Husted is a Republican.
But Husted recently said it was “logical” to keep the early voting location in downtown, even if the board’s other operations moved.
Husted could make a decision as early as Friday.
Catholic Health Partners offered to give Hamilton County the former Mercy Franciscan Hospital site free of charge so it no longer has to pay for upkeep.
County commissioners want to create a new, expanded regional crime lab at the 70-acre site on Kipling Avenue.
The new crime lab won’t use all of the 480,000 square-foot site, however, and other county offices probably will fill the remainder.
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and State Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Bond Hill) have offered an alternate plan to the Board of Elections.
The pair wants the Board of Elections to lease, free of charge, a city-owned storefront location on Sixth Street. The space, which is about 8,000 square feet, would be used for a satellite office, where people could register to vote and cast early voting ballots.
For more stories by Kevin Osborne, visit www.wcpo.com/osborne . Follow him on Twitter at @kevinwcpo