Drop boxes, like this one in Union County from this year’s primary election, will be provided at every board of elections office in Ohio. Local election officials want residents to know they can request an absentee ballot and return it by mail or drop it into the drop box before Election Day. They can also vote early at the board office or in-person at their polling location on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3. (Photo submitted)
As state and federal officials debate the process and security for the upcoming election, local officials are working to give voters as many options as possible.
Local election officials said that over the Labor Day weekend Secretary of State Frank LaRose will mail absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter in the state.
Officials explained that absentee balloting, as it is done in Ohio, is different than the voting by mail that has come under scrutiny. With the mail-in voting, a ballot is sent to every voter and they simply mail it back. In Ohio, however, voters must complete an application, including their date of birth, a form of identification and a signature. The application is sent to the board of elections which verifies the application. Once the application is approved, a ballot is mailed. The potential voter marks the ballot and must again provide date of birth, identification and a signature on the identification envelope.
“That way, we verify and double check to ensure they are the one who returned that ballot,” said Brandon Clay, director of the Union County Board of Elections, 835 E. Fifth St.
The ballot can then be mailed, dropped in a drop box at the board of elections office or hand carried into the board of elections.
“There are checks and balances in place,” Deputy director Tina LaRoche said. “We don’t just accept any ballot dropped in the mail or our drop box. It has to be from a registered voter and verified that it is the voter that actually returned the ballot.”
Election officials say that by voting absentee, whether by mail or in-person at the board office, it reduces the number of voters at the polling locations on Election Day, Nov. 3.
Officials said absentee ballots are actually the first ballots counted each election day. LaRoche said some people believe absentee ballots are counted only when there is a close election, but she said they are counted often before polling location ballots are even returned.
LaRose is working to make sure each absentee ballot has postage included. He said recently that paying postage would help make “every mailbox a drop box for millions of Ohioans, making it easier than ever to cast a ballot in a general election.”
LaRose’s comment is related to pushback he’s been facing over a directive that limits the number of ballot drop boxes in Ohio to one per county.
Drop boxes have been seen as a key tool during the coronavirus pandemic for voters to deliver absentee ballots to election boards without risking illness and, more recently, postal delays.
An election bill that LaRose proposed in May, which called for paying ballot postage and a series of other election changes, has stalled. Now LaRose is trying to fund the postage out of his business services budget, though he has said he is not sure he can act on the postage issue without additional approval.
Local officials said that regardless of how early a ballot request is submitted, ballots will not be mailed until Oct. 6. That will also be the first day for in-person absentee voting.
“We will be open extended hours for early, in-person voting all the way through Election Day,” LaRoche said.
Officials are asking those who want to vote absentee to request and return their ballots early. Last week, the U.S. Postal Service sent a letter to LaRose and other election officials, warning that delays in delivering the mail could result in voters not being able to cast their absentee ballots in time. LaRose has noted concerns with postal delays in the past. He says his office has been trying to warn voters to not “procrastinate” when it comes to requesting and casting an absentee ballot. He said that by requesting and returning ballots early, voters can “flatten the absentee ballot curve” meaning the post office will not be overwhelmed with requests or ballots and there will be plenty of time for the system to process the additional mail.
“We would rather voters request their ballot now, even if we can’t send it out until October,” Clay said. “That way, voters make sure they get a chance to get their ballots and to vote.”
The secretary of state’s office says LaRose has been working on ways to mitigate potential postal service delays. His office says the USPS committed to implementing certain protocols during the Ohio primary, and the office believes those will be continued this fall.
Those that choose to vote on Election Day will need to follow some protocols.
“If Ohio is under a mandatory mask order, people are required to wear a mask to the polls,” LaRoche said.
She said the masks ensure “the health and safety of our voters, our poll workers and our staff.”
Officials said that those who will not or cannot wear a mask in public will be asked to vote curbside. Additionally, any voter that has displayed any COVID-19 symptoms or been around someone that has, will also be asked to vote curbside. LaRoche said that on election day, voters will be able to go to the polling location and call a number provided at the site.
“A Republican and a Democrat will come out and bring you a ballot to your car so you do not have to come in.”
Officials said that once ballots are cast, whether absentee or on Election Day, the votes remain secure. She said everything in the board office — voting machines, ballot boxes, computers, even many of the rooms in the office — require a Republican with a key and a Democrat with a key to enter them.
“Everything we do here, we do in bipartisan teams,” Clay said.
Outside drop off boxes are also double locked and under 24-hour security.
Additionally, LaRoche said LaRose has issued “a very detailed security directive to ensure all Ohio boards of election offices are secure, our networks are secure, our machines are secure, our offices our secure.”
“We have put a lot of things in place with cyber security and with physical security,” Clay said,
To vote, residents must be registered to vote by the end of the day Oct. 5. That day, the board of elections will be open until 9 p.m., “to make sure everyone gets a chance to register so they can vote” LaRoche said.
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