Thousands of mail-in ballots could muddy Election Day results

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose in file photo from earlier this year,

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose will announce the number of absentee ballots requested but not received at local boards of elections by Election Day so Ohioans will know how many valid outstanding votes might still need counted.

LaRose on Tuesday said that highlighting that information will give people an idea of how close races are after the polls close on Nov. 3.

It will be the first time Ohioans will see that information on the state’s election night reporting website.

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Absentee ballots that are postmarked by Nov. 2 and arrive by Nov. 13, and provisional ballots that require verification after Election Day are tallied during the final canvass, which must be completed by Nov. 24.

Final, unofficial results will be released after boards have completed the Election Day count, which LaRose expects will be done by sunrise the morning after Election Day.

“This year they may be a little more unofficial than usual,” said LaRose, alluding to the huge increase in absentee ballots anticipated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“What that means is there will be tens, probably hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots that are still out that we expect to come back,” LaRose said. “We are going to report what that number is so it will be very clear to everybody that these are the results that we have so far but it’s not the final results because there’s still a high number of ballots that are still likely out.”

The final, official results will be announced after the official canvass.

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LaRose said Ohio voters have four weeks to cast absentee ballots by mail or in-person at their boards of election and he believes that is a safe, secure way to vote that does not give a partisan advantage to either political party. His office has simplified absentee ballot applications and the ballot envelope to help people avoid mistakes that can lead to the ballot not being counted, such as forgetting to sign it or not including their date-of-birth.

Voting booths will be cleaned and socially distanced. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

LaRose said voters should include contact information with their ballots, and he ordered all boards of elections to contact voters by phone or email if there is a problem with their absentee ballots before it is separated from its identifying documentation. If contact information isn’t available, the voter can be contacted by mail, but LaRose said that could slow things down.

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He’s hoping for state Controlling Board approval on Sept. 14 of his request to use $3 million from fees his office collects to pay for postage on all ballots. Pre-paid postage was provided by the state for the primary election this year, but the state legislature did not approve LaRose’s request for General Election postage funding.

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If the Controlling Board approves, LaRose will send first class stamps to all 88 of Ohio’s boards of elections because it is likely too late for them to print pre-paid envelopes. He said ballots will be handled as first class mail that will be postmarked by the U.S. Postal Service. LaRose said he is confident in the postal service’s capacity to handle election mail and is encouraged by how quickly people have received their ballot applications.

He also urged voters to ignore President Donald Trump’s suggestion that people who vote absentee also go to the polls on Election Day and vote again. For starters, that is illegal, said LaRose.

Steve Harsman, deputy director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, explains how newer voting machines function. BONNIE MEIBERS/ STAFF

LaRose said boards know who has requested an absentee ballot and which ballots have been returned. Voters can check the status of their ballot online. If someone is concerned that their ballot hasn’t been received they can vote provisionally on Election Day but, the board will only count the first ballot that was completed.

He also urged people to request their absentee ballots by Oct. 27, which is earlier than the state’s Oct. 31 deadline. He said that will help make sure they get the ballots in time to complete them and mail them back so they are postmarked the day before Election Day.

Nov. 3, 2020 General Election

Oct. 5 - Voter registration deadline
Oct. 6 - Absentee voting begins
Oct. 27 - Recommended date to request absentee ballot*
Nov. 2 - Deadline for absentee ballot postmark
Nov. 3 - Election Day; 7:30 p.m. deadline to drop off absentee ballots in person at board of elections drop box or office
Nov. 13 - Deadline for absentee ballots to arrive at board of elections
Nov. 24 - Boards of election must complete official canvass and announce official results
Track ballot request at VoteOhio.gov/Track
*Legal deadline is Oct. 31 but that may result in ballots not arriving in time to be counted.

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