This is the second of two-part series on Ohio's absentee voting system. Read part one here.
For more than a decade, Ohio voters have had several options for casting ballots, and in the midst of this pandemic, many are considering returning ballots by mail. But changes at the U.S. Postal Service have Democrats and Republicans both worried about what might happen with mail-in voting.
President Trump set off a firestorm with his comments on Fox Business last month about holding up funding for the U.S. Postal Service because he wanted to make it harder to vote by mail.
"They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots," Trump said. "Now, in the meantime, they aren't getting there. But if they don't get those two items, that means you can't have universal mail-in voting because they're not equipped to have it.”
Trump walked back those comments a few days later. But concerns about cost-cutting and other changes led Ohio’s Republican Attorney General Dave Yost to send a letter to Trump, asking him to avoid taking actions that would affect this election.
“I’m concerned about this particular election year, with the number of people who will want to vote absentee because of the COVID pandemic, it is critical that we have the capacity and the reliability of the Postal Service to process the already legally available absentee ballots," Yost wrote.
To be clear, Yost did not accuse Trump of breaking any laws. Rather, the Attorney General says said he was underscoring the importance of not undermining the integrity of the voting system or the results of the November contests.
Michael McDonald is a University of Florida political science professor who works with the United States Election Project, which tracks historical voting patterns. McDonald says Republicans could actually be hurt more by the Postal Service changes and confusion.
He looked at mail-in ballots that were received too late to be counted in the most recent primaries. In the three big urban counties in Ohio, which are largely Democratic, just under 2% of the ballots arrived too late to be counted.
That's compared with 66 rural Ohio counties, which tend to be heavily Republican, where 4.1% of the ballots were not counted – more than twice as many as in the urban counties. McDonald says rural counties tend to have fewer employees and depend on the larger counties for sorting.
“In a rural area, when you put your mail ballot into your mailbox, it doesn’t go to your local post office and get sorted there, then sent back out to the local elections office," McDonald says. "Instead, your mail goes to a central processing facility in a large city, then it gets routed back down to your local post office, which then sends it to your election office. And so, there’s an extra trip there.”
The best advice from everyone on all sides: If you are going to vote by mail, request your ballot now, vote immediately when you receive it, and send it back early or deposit it at your local board of Elections.
And beginning October 6, you can vote in-person at your county board of elections during the four weeks leading up to Election Day. You can also cast your ballot in-person at your designated precinct on November 3.