CLEVELAND -- The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections split along party lines over using its current voting-by-mail plan.
The final decision went to Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to break the tie.
Under a new state law that goes into effect Sept. 30, boards of elections would be prevented from sending unsolicited applications to all registered voters, paying return postage on the applications and paying postage for the completed ballots.
A group called Fair Elections Ohio is seeking a referendum on the law. It needs to collect 231,147 valid signatures by Sept. 29 to place the measure on the November 2012 ballot.
If it suceeds, the law would be suspended.
Democratic board members Inajo Davis Chappell and Sandy McNair praised the vote-by-mail plan, saying it helped residents and election workers.
Republicans Jeff Hastings and Deborah Sutherland voted against the plan.
Late Monday, Husted sent a directive to all boards of election in Ohio. It orders boards of elections throughout Ohio to stop mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications to all registered voters.
In a written statement, Husted said, "To give voters in one county greater access than voters in another county is, on its face, unfair and undermines confidence in our elections system."
"Uniformity in the way in which Ohio's elections are administered is of the utmost importance, which is why Ohio must have a standardized approach to administering elections that ensures equal access for all voters."
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald expressed disappointment today with the directive from Husted.
The directive was received by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections within moments of FitzGerald issuing a letter to Husted asking him to break the 2-to-2 tie vote of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.
Fitzgerald said the vote, along party lines, concerned whether to continue the county's successful Vote by Mail Program.
By mailing absentee voting applications to all registered voters, the Vote by Mail Program is intended to voting easier in Cuyahoga County and reduce lines at the polls, Fitzgerald said.
"This is taking a step backwards in terms of ballot access," FitzGerald said, of the secretary of state's directive.
"We should be doing what we can to make voting easier in Ohio."
FitzGerald said he is examining Cuyahoga County's options in light of today's ruling.