Ohio Voting Guide: What To Know About The 2020 Election

Oct 6, 2020

Ohio's fall election is fast-approaching, with the pandemic still in full swing. Election Day is scheduled for November 3, and the U.S. presidential race, all 16 Ohio congressional seats and many other state races will be on the ballot.

During the primaries, the coronavirus outbreak pushed Ohio to postpone its spring election and switch to almost entirely absentee voting. This time around, county boards of elections have gotten more money and support to prepare, but expect another election heavily dependent on voting by mail.

Below, WOSU put together a guide to help you navigate Ohio’s 2020 election, including information on how to vote, and a rundown of what you can expect on your ballot. This guide will be updated with new information throughout the year.

Check out WOSU's visual guide to voting in the 2020 election.

Here’s some key dates to know for the fall election:

  • General election voter registration deadline: Oct. 5, 2020
  • Early voting and mail-in voting begins: Oct. 6, 2020
  • Deadline to request absentee ballot: Oct. 31, 2020
  • Early voting and mail-in voting ends: Nov. 2, 2020
  • General election: Nov. 3, 2020

Voter Information

The early voting center at the Franklin County Board of Elections in Columbus.
Credit John Minchillo / Associated Press

Are You Registered To Vote?

We've passed the cut-off to register to vote for Ohio's November election. The deadline to register was October 5.

Before you can request an absentee ballot or vote in-person, make sure your voter registration is active and up-to-date. Check your voter registration on the Ohio Secretary of State's website.

Absentee Voting

Many Ohioans will choose to cast their vote via absentee ballots this fall. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is October 31 at 12 p.m., but you should send in your applicaiton as soon as possible.

Watch this video on how to fill out your mail-in ballot request.

You can get an absentee ballot in the following ways:

  1. Go online and print your own absentee ballot request form.
  2. Fill out the required information by hand on a blank sheet of paper.
  3. Call your local board of elections and ask them to send you a form.
  4. Or, if you're one of 8 million Ohioans already registered to vote, you may have received an absentee ballot request form in the mail from the Ohio Secretary of State's Office.

Whichever method you choose, you have to fill out and send the completed request form to your local board of elections, then wait for the board to mail back a ballot. Ballots will start to be mailed out on October 6.

Fill that ballot out and mail it back to your board of elections. You can track the status of your application and ballot here.

Make sure to fill out every field on the application. Common errors on absentee ballot requests include:

  • failing to fill out your date-of-birth,
  • writing your nickname instead of your full legal name,
  • and failing to sign and date the application.

If you're concerned about filling out your absentee ballot application correctly, put down your phone number or email address on the form. That way, if the county board of elections finds any problem with your application, they're required to contact you through one of those means so it can be fixed.

Watch this video explaining how to complete and return mail-in ballot for the 2020 general election.

To vote by mail, which is a secure and popular method of voting, your ballot must be postmarked by November 2, the day before the election. You also must attach your own postage.

Please note: You should mail your ballot as soon as possible. That back-and-forth could mean four trips through the mail, and the U.S. Postal Service estimates it may take between 2-5 days to deliver each way. This spring election saw even longer delays, and many Ohioans had their votes invalidated because they arrived late.

Voting rights groups suggest mailing your ballot at least a week before Election Day. Your ballots can be received up to 10 days after Election Day to be counted.

Ballot Drop Boxes

Instead of sending your absentee ballot through the mail, you can drop off your ballot in person at your county board of elections anytime before November 3 at 7:30 p.m. Each of Ohio's 88 election boards has a secure drop box for turning in ballots and ballot requests.

Find the location of your board of elections here.

There are currently two lawsuits seeking to expand the number and locations of ballot drop boxes allowed in each county, but for now, each county election board will have them located at their building.

In-Person Voting

This fall, all Ohio voters can again cast their ballot the old fashioned way, in person.

The first opportunity is at an early voting center, beginning October 6. The schedule for early voting is set by the Secretary of State, and in every county but Lucas, Miami and Summit, early voting happens at the county board elections.

In the first two weeks, early voters can vote at their county board weekdays between 8 a.m.-5 p.m., but there is no early voting over the weekend those weeks. In the final two weeks leading up to Election Day, hours extend later during the week, and the boards open for limited hours on the weekends. The final day to vote early in-person is Monday, November 2, but voting wraps up slightly earlier.

Here are the dates and times for early in-person voting:

  • October 6-9: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • October 12-16: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • October 19-23: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
  • October 24: 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • October 25: 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
  • October 26-30: 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.
  • October 31: 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • November 1: 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
  • November 2: 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Voting on Election Day will happen at polling locations based on where voters live. Because of the pandemic, it’s possible some polling locations could move from where you're accustomed. The Secretary of State’s Office has a handy tool for looking up where voters are supposed to cast their ballot.

Polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. However, as long as you are already in line when that deadline hits, Ohio law requires you to be allowed to vote – so make sure you stay in line!

What If I Change My Mind About Voting Absentee?

Voting rights groups and election officials are adamant: Voting absentee by mail is safe and secure, especially if you fill out and mail your ballot as soon as you get it. But it's possible that, even after requesting your absentee ballot, you may want to vote in-person after all.

The Ohio Secretary of State's office has made it clear that Ohioans who request absentee ballots through the mail can choose instead to vote early at your in-person voting site, as long as you didn't already mail your ballot back. Either way, voting early will mean your vote is among the first counted on Election Night.

However, if you've requested an absentee ballot and then show up to vote in-person on Election Day, you will be required to vote provisionally. Your ballot will eventually be counted, but it won't be included on the Election Night totals.

Do I Need Voter ID?

Yes, but not necessarily a picture ID. To get an absentee ballot or cast your vote in person, Ohio law requires some form of acceptable identification, which includes:

  • An unexpired Ohio driver’s license or state ID card with present or former address, as long as your present residential address is in the official list of registered voters for that precinct
  • A military ID
  • A photo ID issued by the United States government or the State of Ohio, that contains your name and current address, and that has not passed its expiration
  • An original or copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other document with your name and present address ("current" means in the last 12 months).

Check the entire list of acceptable IDs here.

If you've moved or changed your name, but didn't update your voter registration by the deadline, you can still vote using a provisional ballot

Will There Be Enough Poll Workers?

One big concern among election officials and voting rights advocates is a shortage of poll workers. A large contingent of retirees usually pitch in on Election Day, but COVID-19 makes that risky.

County boards and the Secretary of State are urging people to sign on, and some professional groups are weighing in, too. The Ohio Supreme Court is offering continuing legal education credit for lawyer who serve as poll workers, and Ohio State University will pay employees to be poll workers during work hours.

You can sign up to be a poll worker here.

What Am I Voting On?

Former Vice President Joe Biden (left) and President Donald Trump (right).
Credit Associated Press

Below is a rundown of some of the major races you'll see on Ohio's ballot this November, from the presidential race on down.

Find your sample ballot here.

The President

At the top of the ticket is the U.S. presidential race between former Vice President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic candidate, and incumbent President Donald Trump, the Republican candidate.

Trump's running mate remains Vice President Mike Pence.

Joe Biden announced on August 11 that his running mate would be Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who would be the first African American, and only the third woman, nominated as vice president. Harris herself ran for president last year, before dropping out and endorsing Biden.

For independent candidates for president and vice president, the deadline for filing a signature petition was August 5 at 4 p.m. The Ohio Secretary of State's Office announced on August 21 that several candidates qualified for the Ohio ballot.

Jo Jorgensen will appear on the ballot as the presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, with running mate Spike Cohen.

Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker will also appear on the ballot as independent candidates for president and vice president.

Rapper Kanye West did not qualify as a presidential candidate in Ohio, due to problems with his nominating petition, although he will appear on the ballot in several other states.

U.S. House

The presidency isn't the only federal-level election happening this year. All 16 of Ohio's congressional seats are also up for grabs in 2020.

Currently the delegation is occupied by 12 Republicans and four Democrats, and although Ohio's legislature approved a plan to redraw the Congressional map, that won't impact any election until 2022.

Here's a rundown of the candidates in each of Ohio's districts.

1st District

2nd District

3rd District

4th District

5th District

6th District

7th District

8th District

9th District

10th District

11th District

12th District

13th District

14th District

15th District

16th District

Ohio Supreme Court

There won't be many statewide votes this fall, with the exception of two Ohio Supreme Court seats.

Republicans Judith French and Sharon Kennedy are both seeking re-election to another six-year term on the state's highest court. Currently, five of the court's seven judges are Republicans. 

French faces a Democratic challenger in Jennifer Brunner, a former Ohio Secretary of State and current judge on Ohio's 10th District Court of Appeals.

Kennedy will face Democrat John P. O'Donnell, currently a judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.

What Do You Want To Hear In 2020?

Credit John Minchillo / Associated Press

Now WOSU wants to hear from you.

Maybe you’ve already made your decision on who you're supporting in this year's elections, but many people in Ohio remain undecided. Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican or somewhere in the middle, WOSU wants your input: What is the biggest issue on your mind in 2020, and why does it matter to you?

Submit your response to that question below, and WOSU may get in touch for a future story.

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Nick Evans contributed to this article.