Ohio’s best chance for a successful November election is a robust and closely monitored vote-by-mail system. The general election is sure to have a number of important local government, school and county issues. But the presidential race will no doubt draw the spotlight as Republican incumbent Donald J. Trump faces the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.That’s all the more reason to think ahead and come up with a failsafe voting system.
Leaders should start planning now for the Nov. 3 election, especially with a predicted upswing in the coronavirus this fall. The virus forced state officials to close the polls and change the March 17 primary to a mostly vote-by-mail election on April 28. That vote went well.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has come up with a plan for the Nov. 3 statewide vote that aims to keep both voters and poll workers as safe as possible by encouraging mostly mail-in ballots and early voting. The plan also allows for some in-person voting but with fewer polling places to reduce the person-to-person contact. Mr. LaRose wants to allow online requests for absentee ballots, fully paid postage for both the ballot application and ballot, and a change in the ballot request deadline from three days before the election to a full week prior to Election Day.
Ohio already has a solid absentee mail-in system that can be accessed by any registered voter without having to give a reason. The system works.
And although we support mail-in ballots and have confidence in the U.S. Postal Service, we have one concern. What can voters do if their ballot truly is lost in the mail?
That happened during the April 28 election when the Geauga County Board of Elections received 26 ballots in May, about two weeks after the primary. Each ballot was postmarked by the state’s deadline but arrived at the board of elections office too late to be counted.
Chagrin Falls Post Office officials told the elections board that the mix-up was human error. The batch of mail with the 26 ballots apparently was placed in the bin heading out of state instead of the bin heading to Geauga County. By the time the ballots left and re-entered Ohio, it was around May 13.
According to state law specifically approved for Ohio’s 2020 primary, ballots had to be postmarked by April 27, the day before the election, but could be counted up to 10 days after the election.
Pete Zeigler, director of the Geauga elections board, said the 26 ballots were postmarked April 27, but were delivered to his office in Chardon after the 10-day window. So, by law, they could not be counted. The ballots were from Bainbridge, Auburn and other communities near the Chagrin Falls Post Office.
Mistakes happen, we realize that, but we also know that some local races in past elections have been decided by one vote. So, every vote counts.
That’s where residents come into play. Under the current system in Ohio, registered voters can check on the election boards’ websites to see if their ballot request form was mailed out and received. The same goes for the ballot. Once mailed, a voter can check if the elections board received the ballot. It’s all documented on the website, including exact dates. If there is no record, the voter then could call the county elections board to explore options. A provisional ballot likely could be cast at the board office.
Glitches are unavoidable, but with planning, fewer are likely to happen.
That’s why we urge the General Assembly to look at Mr. LaRose’s proposal and take action in a by-partisan matter to show residents that the voting system in Ohio is strong and fair.
There’s no time to lose. Election Day is closer than we think.