State legislation that could decide the 2012 presidential election is also affecting when Franklin County voters can cast their absentee ballots this fall.

State legislation that could decide the 2012 presidential election is also affecting when Franklin County voters can cast their absentee ballots this fall.

“There will be absentee voting — we just don’t know exactly when at this point,” said Ben Piscitelli, public information officer for the Franklin County Board of Elections.

The uncertainty is caused by a threatened referendum to overturn House Bill 194, which would shorten Ohio’s mail-in absentee voting period. Those seeking the bill’s repeal have until Sept. 29 to collect 231,000 signatures to keep H.B. 194 from going into effect this year.

“If that petition drive is successful, the new law would be stayed, pending a referendum on the question in November 2012,” Piscitelli said.

If the petitions are filed on time, the previous law will stay in effect and absentee voting would begin on Oct. 4, 35 days before the election. If the deadline is missed, H.B. 194 would go into effect and the absentee voting would begin 21 days before the election, on Oct. 18.

In addition, Piscitelli said, if the deadline is missed, in-person early voting will run from Oct. 22 through Nov. 4 at the Board of Elections, 280 E. Broad St. Prior to H.B. 194’s passage, that period was 35 days, and included the weekend before the election.

Political parties have taken sides with H.B. 194. Republicans say the bill’s election law reforms ensure that all 88 counties are on an equal playing field, while Democrats say the shorter voting period will limit people from casting ballots.

“It wasn’t that many years ago that you needed an excuse in Ohio to vote absentee,” Piscitelli said. “We went to no-fault absentee voting in 2005. Anyone can vote absentee just for the convenience of it.”

Piscitelli said the absentee vote in Franklin County was 44 percent of the entire turnout in the 2008 presidential election; 45.2 percent in May 2010 and 45.9 percent in November 2010.

“It’s shown over the years that people like the ease and convenience of voting absentee, and it seems like once they do it a first time, they become comfortable in it and don’t want to go back,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to vote at your kitchen table than standing in line somewhere and who knows what type of bad weather you may face.”

Regardless of the status of H.B. 194 at the end of the month, Piscitelli said, the board of elections will be promoting the opportunity to vote absentee.

“In the meantime, what we are doing is that when people call in and request an absentee ballot application, we are sending them an application already, and our website has a prominent invitation displayed on the front page right there that says send me a request for an absentee ballot.”

For more information on absentee voting, visit the Franklin County Board of Elections website at votefranklincountyohio.gov or call (614) 525-3100.