COLUMBUS (WCMH) — For the first time in recent history, Ohio has extended the primary election that was scheduled for March 17 and is accepting mail-in absentee ballots.
With many local races still up for grabs on the Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian ballots, and a host of local issues dealing with taxation on all ballots including the Issues Only ballot anyone can request, participation in the election offers every registered Ohioan a chance to have their voice be heard.
However, this process is very new to many voters in Ohio as more than 80 percent of voters choose to cast their ballot in person on Election Day. The other 20 percent use early voting at centers set up at Boards of Elections or vote by mail with absentee ballots.
To accommodate the mail-in ballot extension, the Franklin County Board of Election has been working hard to make sure voters get what they need as quickly as possible.
There are dozens of employees processing mail, running the machines to print and process ballots, answering phone calls requesting applications for a ballot, and verifying the applications when they come in.
Despite the hard work of everyone involved, this all takes time to accomplish even with computers that are cutting that time down significantly.
One reason for the lag time is the mail itself, which can take several days to move a piece of mail from one place to another. Another is the need for some people not to leave their homes because they are either quarantined and risk infecting others with COVID-19 or have vulnerable people living in the home and do not want to risk bringing the virus home and infecting them.
In these cases, individuals need to print their application for a mail-in ballot and send it to the Board of Elections. But some of these people don’t have access to the internet, a computer, and a printer.
That means they have to call and request a ballot be sent to their home so they can start the voting process. The Franklin County Board of Elections says it has been fielding 1,200-1,300 calls per day, many of which are requesting these applications.
There are more than 850,000 registered voters in Franklin County and back in 2016, during the last Presidential Primary Election where Bernie Sander and Hillary Clinton were battling it out for the Democrats while John Kasich was going up against Donald Trump for the Republicans in the primary, nearly 40 percent of those voters cast a ballot and 70 percent voted in the General Election.
With the calls for requests continuing to come in, time is running out to get that application sent by mail, and it’s more of a function of the process than the ability for the board of elections to accommodate them.
Let’s assume it takes an average of two days for mail to travel from your home to the Franklin County Board of Elections, and you need them to send you an application to start the process.
Today is Friday, April 17 and you call the Board of Elections to request your application.
They will gladly send you one, but it can’t go out until Saturday, April 18, because it’s late in the day.
Sometime around Monday, April 20, you could receive that application in the mail. You bring it inside, open it up and fill it out, but because the mail has already been dropped off, the earliest you can get it back in the mail is Tuesday, April 21.
Sometime around Thursday, April 23, your application arrives at the Board of Elections, and is put through a massive machine with thousands of others that came in that day. It is translated into a computer image and sent with hundreds of others to workers comparing signatures to verify the person requesting the ballot is indeed who they say they are. The name, age, and other factors are all checked.
This whole process could take up to two days because of the sheer volume of requests coming in. Once your application is verified, sometime around Friday, April 24, or Saturday, April 25, the Board of Elections will print off your ballot. Another computer handles that.
Workers load a ballot into the machine and start sending it through, the computer will start pulling people’s names that match that ballot and assigning it to them. Workers have to load each of dozens of different ballots throughout the day so that everyone’s name is eventually assigned.
Once printed and packaged, the ballots are shipped out, so in the hypothetical timeline, that could happen sometime around Saturday, April 25, or Sunday, April 26. But the mail doesn’t come around on Sundays. No worries, the board of elections takes it to them and drops it off.
Hopefully there are no delays, and the postal service processes the mail without issue and that could mean your ballot could arrive in your mailbox on Monday, April 27, or Tuesday, April 28.
But that poses a bit of a problem.
You must have your ballot postmarked by April 27, or you will have to drop it off in person at the Board of Elections Headquarters on April 28 no later than 7:30 p.m. and if you can’t leave your home, you could have a problem.
Again, that was a possible outcome for someone who needs an application mailed to them, and is contingent on mail taking two days to travel between the home and the board of elections.
If mail takes longer, if the voter does not respond as quickly as described, or if there are unforeseen delays elsewhere, the prospect of participating in the election grows smaller.
There are solutions, though, so do not be discouraged and think voting isn’t an option for you. It most certainly is.
Anyone who can get out of their home can go to the Board of Elections in person, fill out an application on the spot, and turn it in. That saves nearly five days right there.
You could also pick one up at any Kroger location, fill it out, and mail it in or go drop it off in person.
If you cannot leave your home and you have someone you trust to be sanitary and safe, you could have them bring you the applications so that you can fill them out carefully, taking steps to protect your health and safety, then they can go drop them off for you.
Anyone with access to the internet, a computer, and a printer should have no trouble getting the application in their hands, but waiting to turn it in will put you in the same boat as those without access.
One final thing, if you make a mistake on your application such as writing your birthday down correctly, or switching some numbers in your address or zip code, or if your signature is too different than the one on file with the Board of Elections, there is a high chance your application will be rejected.
If that happens, the Board of Elections will mail you notice that has occurred. If you wait too long, you may not have enough time to redo the application and be able to participate due to the application deadline.
Remember, the final day the Board of Elections is accepting applications for an absentee mail-in ballot is April 25. You have to have your request into them by noon.
Once you get your ballot, make sure it is postmarked by April 27 or drop it off in person on April 28.
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