COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose wants Ohioans to experience as close to a normal election as possible this November, but he is going to need some help from the legislature to do so.
“Moving the November election is not an option,” LaRose said. “Delaying the November election is not an option and in my mind, we need to be working right now, and we are working right now in Ohio to make sure that we provide a normal election this November.”
First of all, LaRose is certain that polling locations will be able to be open and kept safe on election day. He says retailers have shown how shoppers can get in, find what they need, buy it and get out of a building in an orderly, safe fashion.
This includes the use of masks for employees, limiting the number of people in the building at any given time, marking safe distances for people to observe and high levels of sanitation.
The big difference between November’s general election and the primary election, which just occurred, are time and access to PPE.
Boards of elections have months to plan for how polling locations will operate, how many will be needed and where they will be located. LaRose wants to consolidate the number of polling locations on election day this November and move them to larger venues so more people can go through the process in a safe way and fewer poll workers are needed.
Some people bristle at the thought of reducing the number of polling locations. The whole point of having a polling location in each precinct is so that people with difficulty securing transportation can get to the polls easily on election day.
To accommodate this, LaRose supports increasing the number of early voting locations. Currently, Ohioans can only vote early at their county’s board of elections headquarters. But driving more than five miles is not something most people are willing to do, according to Catherine Turcer, a voter rights advocate with Common Cause Ohio.
Using Franklin County as an example, because the Board of Elections Headquarters is on the north end of Columbus, few people living on the south end of the city go to vote early. Turcer says opening another secure location on the south side would benefit people wishing to vote early.
But simply increasing the in-person early voting locations is not enough, especially if someone cannot risk going to the polls due to their personal health.
As a result, LaRose wants to modernize the system. He says printing off a piece of paper, filling it out, and sending it in just to get more paper to fill out and send back is antiquated and needs to change. He wants Ohioans to be able to request their ballot online. LaRose says it is possible to do this in a secure way.
Every even numbered year, the years where a race for the presidency of the United States, or the governorship of Ohio is on the ballot, the Secretary of State automatically sends every registered voter an application for an absentee ballot. This year will be no different, but LaRose wants lawmakers to permit him to also send a pre-paid return envelope so people do not have to deal with finding a stamp to mail the application back.
He says this will not cost the state a dime since he already has funding from the federal government to cover these costs.
LaRose also say the deadline to request a ballot needs to be changed.
Currently, the last day someone can request an absentee ballot is the Saturday before the election. He says this is impractical and problematic with the delays the U.S. Postal Service is experiencing due to COVID-19.
LaRose is advocating for pushing the deadline back to the Tuesday before the election giving voters seven days to receive their absentee ballot. Further, if they miss the deadline, they will know in plenty of time to figure out where they will need to go to vote in person if they still wish to vote.
LaRose says if voters are encouraged to vote by mail, they will not only know they will be guaranteed to have a say in the outcome of the election, but they will be helping to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.
The system could works out fine if there is a significant number of people voting by mail but some people question whether that will happen. If it doesn’t, reducing the number of polling locations will cause long lines and some people may leave those lines because they can’t not afford to wait.
Ultimately, this will all come down to what lawmakers at the statehouse want to do. LaRose says he doesn’t want to rush them unduly, and wants them to take the time to review his ideas, share their own, and have a discussion about what is practical for November. But he also says they do not have an infinite amount of time to decide what to do.
He says if they have not decided by late summer, it will be too late. Turcer provides a more conservative timetable, stating lawmakers have to act before the end of June or boards of elections will not have time to purchase the new equipment they will need or educate voters enough to have things go smoothly.
LaRose confirms boards of elections need several months not only to procure the equipment, but to test and become familiar with it. Workers at the Franklin County Board of Elections say it would take 90 days to make sure a ballot counting machine is secure and working properly, but that’s not counting the time it takes to find, purchase, and get it shipped to Columbus. LaRose says election equipment is in high demand right now, so items need to be ordered as soon as possible.