‘The only way your vote won’t count is don’t vote’

Note from Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson: these excerpts from the Dayton Daily News Community Conversations: Will Your Vote Count were printed on the Ideas and Voices page Sunday, Oct. 11.

It is a simple question, but one that finds itself in the middle of a controversy few saw coming even four years go.

Will your vote count?

It is a question that Jan Kelly, the director of Montgomery County Board of Elections, hates.

“The only way your vote won’t count is (if you) don’t vote," Kelly said during the recent Dayton Daily News Community Conversation: Will Your Vote Count? “We are not here in the business of throwing out ballots. Absolutely not. We count ballots.”

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Amelia Robinson

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

Kelly; Merle Madrid, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s chief of staff; Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio; and Derrick Foward, president of the NAACP Dayton Unit, discussed topics that ranged from the beginning of early voting, the pros and cons of additional drop off boxes, fears of voting discriminations, and voter fraud and absentee voting during a discussion that can be found on the Dayton Daily News’ Facebook page and DaytonDailyNews.com.

It was moderated by Dayton Daily News Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson with Editor Jim Bebbington and Statehouse Bureau Reporter Laura Bischoff. Several social media users submitted questions.

Dayton Daily News Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson and Statehouse Bureau Reporter Laura Bischoff talked with panelists about how voting has changed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Below are excepts from the discussion. They have been edited for clarity.

QUESTION: On the night of Nov. 3, when you’re done with counting whatever you get that night, what should people be prepared to take away from the numbers they hear?

Merle Madrid, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s chief of staff

MERLE MADRID: "Election night is always an unofficial result. Always has been.

And it’s going to probably have a bit more of a focus on that point this year than in past years...

Remember, if you were in line at 7:30 p.m., stay in line. You’re going to vote on Election Day. Once everybody is through their voting, (election officials are) going to bring all the machines back to the boards of elections from Election Day voting and tabulate the votes off of those machines.

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Meanwhile, from Oct. 6 through Election Day, they’re going to be receiving back mail-in ballots and processing those. What that means is getting them ready to go through the tabulator, not tabulating.

About 11pm-midnight, sometime around then (as results from the) boards come in, what you’re going to see is the unofficial result, which is what you always see that night.

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We don’t have to go in our way back machine to remember some times where the “decision desk” was quick to make calls with different things.

What I think we know better this year than ever before, is look at the results that we see on election night as a share of the total votes counted and keep in mind how many absentee ballots have been requested but not received yet on election night.

A ballot that is mailed prior to Election Day that gets there for 10 days after Election Day will be counted.

Think of it like a pie chart. It should be a big empty pie chart on election of the 5.5 million or 6 million votes that are going to be cast in Ohio.

Jim Bebbington, Editor, Dayton Daily News. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Those first results are the absentee ballots that have come in. So if you vote by mail and you mail it back to Jan or your county board of elections, it’s going to be one of the first votes tabulated.

Instead of putting up 50% of the pie is red and 50% of the pie is blue based on less than 1% of the reporting, what we really should be doing is putting that big empty pie graph of 6 million or so votes that we think are going to be cast.

Then like a little sliver is red and a little sliver is blue and let those fill in throughout the night and into the next day...

You’re going to see, 128 out of 128 precincts reported and somebody will say that means 100%. No, no, that’s 100% of the votes that were cast at polling locations on Election Day.

You see that the early vote and then you’ve got those absentee ballots that rightfully, lawfully can come in, will come in and will be counted. So what we need to do on election night is look at what that number is.

Dayton Daily News Columbus Bureau reporter Laura Bischoff.

We will just use the presidential race: If one candidate is ahead by 200,000 votes in Ohio and there are 400,000 absentee ballots that haven’t come in yet, it would be a fool’s errand for anybody to declare victory. You can’t at that point, the math just doesn’t make sense.

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Now if one candidate is ahead by 1 million votes and there’s 100,000 absentee ballots outstanding, guess what? That person won. The other candidate can’t catch up at that point."

Jan Kelly, director, Montgomery County Board of Elections, reports on the voting operations on election day, November 4, 2014. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

QUESTION: In light of the coronavirus pandemic, what measures have been taken to ensure safety?

“WE STARTED EARLY.”

- Jan Kelly

JAN KELLY: "We have huge trash cans that are going to each polling location that are full of PPE — personal protective equipment — and sanitizing equipment for the polling locations.

I ordered 300,000 cloth masks. We also have the plastic shields that go across for our precinct election officials because we don’t have the plastic drop down screens that you see.

We have towels. We have sanitizers. We have gowns because anybody that presents with COVID-like symptoms or COVID still has a right to vote ... so we have to gown up.

We have gloves. We have alcohol wipes for the precinct election officials only to use on the machines, the express votes, which are the digital machines that place your vote for you.

We had all that secured and in house, except for the gowns, by the end of July. We started really early. I like to plan ahead."

QUESTION: President Trump and some others have raised some questions about fraud, saying this is going to be a fraudulent election and people should take heed. Is anyone here concerned there will be fraud or people not playing by the rules this election?

Jen Miller, executive director of League of Women Voters of Ohio

Credit: Credit to Glenna Jennings

Credit: Credit to Glenna Jennings

“WE CAN TRUST THE RESULTS.”

- Jen Miller

JEN MILLER: "It’s not new for voters to be concerned about election integrity or security. We certainly saw questions after the 2004 election here in Ohio. We certainly saw concerns after the 2016 election.

So let’s break this down a little bit. There are guardrails around every aspect of voting and I feel really proud of Ohio.

Merle and I can go at it about access. And we might have a lot of different ideas for voter access. But a place where we agree is that it’s very hard and exceedingly rare that anyone attempts to commit voter fraud. It is caught. It is prosecuted.

Sometimes we’ll hear folks still talk about, ‘Well can the machines be hacked?’

No. They’re not hooked up to the Internet.

With absentee voting, can we have this thing called ballot harvesting, where someone’s bringing hundreds of ballots? Actually a person has to prove who they are to qualify for the ballot. And then they have to prove who they are for that ballot to count. You’ll hear someone say, ‘Well, I sent in my absentee ballot, and then I went to vote.’

Well, here’s the thing: When someone tries to vote twice, it’s going to get caught. One of those ballots is going to count. Republicans, Democrats, independents, are part of every piece of the chain of custody. We have post-election audits to make sure that the results are right.

I am glad that we’re having this discussion because I think that it’s one of the best aspects of our electoral system here in Ohio is that it’s secure and we can trust its results."

QUESTION: What is the most important thing you want voters to know?

Derrick Foward is president of the NAACP Dayton unit.

“There is no such thing as an off year election.”

- Derrick Forward

DERRICK FOWARD: "There is no such thing as an off year election. While this election is critically important and the outcome is more important than the actual election itself, beyond this election on Nov. 3, 2020, we need to ensure that every election in 2021 and beyond ― every special election, every mid-term election, every general election, every whatever type of election that may happen inside of your community ― that you exercise your right to vote. "

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