Our survey: Mail voting concerns outweigh coronavirus fears locally

Respondents to an online survey by this newspaper expressed more concern about election fraud and the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service than about the danger of coronavirus at the polls on Election Day.

More than half of the 292 respondents to the survey by the Dayton Daily News, Journal-News and Springfield News-Sun said they intend to vote in person on Election Day.

This includes Anthony Doepker of Miami Twp.

“I don’t think it’s difficult to be responsible, to get the masks on, to get people lined up. I think the most important thing has to be the integrity of the election,” he said.

Another 18% said they intend to vote early in-person at their board of elections, and 17% said they plan to drop off an absentee ballot at the board. Only 13% said they plan to vote by U.S. mail.

Of those who indicated who they plan to vote for, supporters of President Donald Trump overwhelmingly said they intend to vote in person, while most former Vice President Joe Biden voters said they plan to cast an absentee ballot.

‘Safe to vote by mail’

State and local elections officials have aggressively worked to dispel fraud fears tied to voting by mail, noting Ohio has offered absentee voting for decades without issue; the process requires voter identification twice; voter rolls are routinely updated; ballot harvesting is illegal; and voters can track their ballots online.

“Absentee voting in Ohio is time-tested and has strong security checks in place,” said Maggie Sheehan, spokeswoman for Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

But 58% of survey respondents said they were “very concerned … about voter fraud caused by increased voting by mail this year.” Another 30% said they are “not concerned.”

Those who expressed concern about fraud often mentioned in their comments universal mail-in voting, which Ohio does not do.

Montgomery County Board of Elections Director Jan Kelly said those concerned about increased voter fraud caused by mail-in voting “have been listening to disinformation. It’s safe to vote by mail in Ohio.”

“We do have checks and balances in place,” Clark County Board of Elections Director Jason Baker said. “No one is going to be able to vote twice through the system we have in place.”

Postal service concerns

Only 10% of respondents were “not concerned … about ballots not being counted because they are lost or delayed by the U.S. Postal Service.” And 60% were “very concerned” about it.

The Dayton Daily News assessed the U.S. Postal Service by mail 121 envelopes roughly the size and shape of ballots, and found there are issues with consistent delivery and postmarking of mail.

“The best thing voters can do if they want to vote by mail is request their ballot early, as early as possible,” Butler County Board of Elections Deputy Director Eric Corbin said. “Fill those (requests) out and send those in to us now.”

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Tiffany Harmon of Liberty Twp. said she intends to cast her ballot by mail because there is no need for people to congregate at polling places during a pandemic.

“I feel like we have a safe, reliable option so there is no need to vote in person,” she said.

Harmon said she has never had a problem with voting by mail and if people are concerned they should send their ballots early and make sure they arrive.

“Is the U.S. postal service perfect? No. But has my grandma been voting by mail for as long as I can remember? Yes.”

‘Not concerned’ about COVID-19

Of the survey respondents, 53% said were “not concerned… about the safety of voting in person amid the coronavirus pandemic.” Only 16% were “very concerned.”

Masha Kisel of Oakwood said she was moderately concerned about safety, but then signed up to be a poll worker after hearing that there will likely be a shortage because it’s a job often held by seniors.

“I still don’t feel super safe but I feel like it has to be done,” she said.

She plans to vote early, however, dropping her ballot off at the board of elections.

“I want to trust the mail, and we’ve been getting our mail so I know rationally we should trust it. But there’s something about me where I really want to see it go into the drop box,” she said.

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Ohio League of Women Voters President Jen Miller emphasized that all of the above methods “are secure in the sense that votes cannot be stolen, elections cannot be stolen in Ohio.”

“With that said, if someone really wants to vote in person, we would encourage them to vote early so that we can try to keep the lines down on Election Day,” she said.

An unprecedented number of voters are requesting absentee ballots. In Butler County there were 22,000 absentee ballot requests submitted by Sept. 1, compared to 1,755 by that date before the 2016 election. There have been 8,000 requests in Clark County with two months before the election, compared to 12,000 in all of 2016.

“We just want people to vote, and we are going to make sure all (the) methods are as safe as possible,” Corbin said.

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