What to know about absentee voting

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — On its face, voting by mail seems simple and easy but it can quickly become complicated by errors or put in peril by delays.  

People have been voting absentee by mail for a while in Ohio, however the number of people doing it has been relatively small up until now.  

With the novel coronavirus pandemic forcing the closure of polling locations on election day and the extension of the March 17 Primary Election to April 28, nearly all voting will be conducted by mail.  

Here’s a step-by-step guide to voting by mail:  

Step 1: Request an application for an absentee ballot.  

Some people do not have access to the internet, a computer, or a printer so they will have to call their county board of elections to request an application be sent to them in the mail. If you have all of those things, you can skip to Step 3.  

Calling the board of elections will get you connected with either a person or an automated system that will get the information needed to send your application for an absentee ballot in the mail. You cannot request a ballot over the phone.  

Step 2. Your county board of elections will send you an application.  

Once they are notified, they will mail you an application. This could take a few days.  

Step 3. Fill out the application and send it back with postage.

After you get the application in the mail or print it off, fill it out carefully. If you make a mistake on this application, it will be rejected. You will need to provide your name, address, the kind of ballot you are requesting (Democrat, Libertarian, Republican, or Issues Only for unaffiliated voters), either your driver’s license number or the last four digits of your social security number and your date of birth.  

You will need to sign and date the application and send it to your board of elections. You will have to provide your own stamp for this piece of mail.  

Step 4. Board of elections verifies your application.

A few days later, the board of elections will receive your application and verify you are who you claim to be. If there are errors on your application or if they cannot verify you as a registered voter, you will be notified and have to start over at Step 3.  

The last day you can request an absentee ballot is April 25. If you wait until the last minute and make a mistake, you will likely not get to vote because there will not be enough time to go through the process again.  

Even if you don’t make a mistake but wait until the last day to request a ballot, you still might miss your chance to vote. If you send your request in on April 25 and it arrives at the board of elections on April 27, you may not get the ballot back in the mail until April 29, the day after the election is over and if that happens, you are out of luck.  

If you are verified, your ballot will be printed and sent to you in the mail. It will come with an additional envelope that has the postage already paid.  

Step 5. Fill out your ballot and send it back.

Yet again, a few more days will pass and eventually you will receive your ballot in the mail. Fill it out, put it in the envelope you were sent with the prepaid postage and send it back to the board of elections.  

You must have your ballot postmarked by April 27 for it to count in the Primary Election. Alternatively, if you get your ballot late, or at the last minute because you waited too long, you can drop off your ballot at your county board of elections in person no later than 7:30 p.m. on April 28.  

Step 6. Board of elections receives your ballot.

A few days after you send your ballot to the board of elections, they will get it and begin the process of counting your vote. As long as you met all the appropriate deadlines, your vote will officially count toward the extended March 17 Primary Election.  

Here’s a quick note about disabled voters:

There will be an opportunity for voters with qualifying disabilities to vote on a machine on April 28.

You must have a qualifying disability or you will not be allowed to vote on the machines. These individuals will have to travel to their county board of elections headquarters to cast their ballots.  

Behind the Scenes: processing your ballot

While everyone is requesting applications for absentee ballots and sending mail back and forth, workers at your board of elections are very busy.  

Some are verifying your applications, some workers are stuffing applications to be mailed out while others are printing off ballots and sending them out. In the meantime, a whole other group of workers are sorting mail.  

Applications go in one pile, ballots go in another pile, and then there are other pieces of mail constantly coming in as well, like voter registrations.  

When ballots come in, they will be sorted by precinct and workers will remove the ballots without looking at them.  They will then put those ballots into bins marked by precinct and once this happens, the ballot becomes anonymous.

The counting machines will conduct a test run to make sure it is counting properly, which a bi-partisan team will verify and then those bins will be run through the ballot scanners.  

The vote totals are stored and not shared with those running the machines.  

On April 28, when tabulation is allowed to begin, the vote totals that have been stored this whole time will be made available to the team doing the tabulation.  

Counting votes in this fashion has to occur this way. It would take too long to try to run all of the ballots through on the day of the election. The machines run quickly, but it would still take them well over 24 hours to count all of the votes boards of election offices in the largest counties are expecting.  

For perspective, there are more than 800,000 registered voters in Franklin County. About 45,000 have already cast their ballot either through in-person voting in the 28 days before March 17, or by absentee ballot leading up to that date.  

As of Thursday, April 2 an additional 15,000 ballots have been mailed out, well short of the potential turn out.

In a presidential election, only about 70 percent of registered voters exercise their right to vote and primary numbers are notable lower.

What the turn out will be for this primary election will be interesting to see as voters are being forced to use a system many are unfamiliar with and that some simply do not trust.  

Washington State votes completely by mail. Fewer poll workers are needed and fewer voting machines are used.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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