Local boards of election worried about mail-in deadline

By law Ohio voters have until Oct. 31 to request an absentee ballot, but election officials say that might be too late for your vote to be counted.

“If people request their ballot on the current deadline, they’re not going to be able to get their ballot and vote,” said Jan Kelly, director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

Kelly and other elections officials said voters should have their applications in no later than Oct. 27, at least a week before the Nov. 3 election.

Miami County Board of Elections director Laura Bruns said her staff is working to get the word out about the deadlines for requesting an absentee ballot.

“The Post Office is telling us that people who request on that day (Oct. 31)... we will send the ballots to them but we can’t guarantee that we can get them their ballot on time to return it to us on Election Day,” Bruns said. “The earlier we get them out in the mail and the earlier the voters get them back to us, the better. We have a concern about those late arriving applications and ballots arriving too late to be counted.”

There is a proposed change in the law, Bruns said. In May, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose proposed making the deadline to request ballots earlier. The Ohio Legislature has made no decision on that yet.

Llyn McCoy, director of the Greene County Board of Elections, said she is concerned that if people wait until the last possible minute to request a ballot, and many others do the same, that they might not get the ballot back in time for their vote to be counted.

McCoy said Greene County voters can also drop their ballots off at the board of elections office in the silver drop box in front of the building on Ledbetter Road. There is a ballot drop box inside the Montgomery County Administration building in downtown Dayton and a drop box outside the building on North Vista View Drive. In Miami County, voters can drop off their ballots in between the old courthouse and the safety building on Main Street.

Boards of election are not allowed to mail ballots until Oct. 6, she said.

Currently, the Greene County Board of Elections has about 2,700 absentee ballot requests on file. McCoy said she expects more requests to come in after Labor Day or the Democratic and Republican national conventions. She expects at least 30% of the voter turnout to be either by mail or early voting.

McCoy said this year Greene County has a mail house that’s going to be processing applications and mail-in ballots for them.

Kelly, in Montgomery County, said they expect at least 200,000 people to vote by mail this year. Last year about 55,000 voted via absentee ballot.

“We are pushing people to vote by mail to lessen the lines at the polls, to lessen their exposure and our staff’s exposure to the coronavirus,” Kelly said. “We’re not concerned about the volume of mail-in ballots. We’re ready.”

In order to process those ballots, Kelly said the county has bought two high speed scanners and hired 20 extra seasonal staff.

Kelly said that voting absentee is “absolutely” a safe and secure way to vote.

“I think there’s been a lot of misinformation that’s been given. I feel that it’s an absolutely safe way to vote, just like voting at your precinct or here at the board of elections in person,” Kelly said.

Voters can call their local board of elections office to request an application for an absentee ballot or print off an application at home from the Ohio Secretary of State’s website. The Secretary of State’s office will be mailing an application to every registered voter in Ohio in the next couple of weeks, Bruns said.

Voters should go online to the Secretary of State’s website and make sure their registration is up-to-date.

Another important tip, McCoy said, is to make sure the absentee request form is filled out correctly.

“Have another person in your household look it over and make sure all of those blanks are filled in,” McCoy said. “If somebody gives us the accurate information the first time around, it’s going to go a lot smoother for everybody.”

Once an application or ballot is submitted, voters can also check on where it is on the board of elections site or the Secretary of State’s website. Mail from the board of elections will come in an official envelope, the elections officials said. Montgomery County’s will have a “big blue banner” on the side, Kelly said.

Election officials are also concerned about finding poll workers.

About a quarter of poll workers in Miami County said that they’re concerned about working because of the coronavirus. Over half of workers in Greene County indicated that they would work, but some expressed concerns about the pandemic, McCoy said. The Greene County Board of Elections recently voted to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to volunteer at the polls.

They can’t work the polls, but can greet voters and sanitize equipment, McCoy said.

Kelly said it has been a challenge to find poll workers.

“A lot of people have indicated that they’re not going to work,” Kelly said. “We need precinct officials.”

Polling locations will be equipped with hand sanitizer and voting machines will be spaced out. In Montgomery County, Kelly said each voter will get their own pen.

Because voting machines will be placed further from each other, there will be half as many machines at the precincts, Kelly said. This will create longer lines.

“Do what makes the voter feel most comfortable, but make sure that you vote,” McCoy said. “Vote the way you want to and your vote will count.”

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