Absentee voting

Jim OBryan drops of his election ballot in the drop box at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in Cleveland.
Tony Dejak / Associated Press

Voting rights groups say they fear the possible consolidation of polling places this November, due to the ongoing pandemic, will lead to long lines like the ones Ohioans experienced in 2004. 

How Mail-in Voting Works In Ohio: A Step-By-Step Guide

Aug 2, 2020

Mail-in or absentee voting has in the past only accounted for a small percentage of all votes cast nationwide. But as a global pandemic stops normal life for most Americans, an unprecedented number of states are encouraging voting by mail, including Ohio and Kentucky.

Franklin County Board of Elections during the delayed spring election on April 28, 2020.
Ryan Hitchcock / WOSU

The Ohio branches of the ACLU and the League of Women Voters are suing state election officials over how absentee ballot signatures are verified. 

Updated at 11:56 a.m. ET

With about 100 days left before the general election, officials are simultaneously trying to prepare for two very different types of voting, while facing two unprecedented threats to safety and security. It's a juggling act that has voters, political parties and officials anxious about how smoothly November's voting will go.

"Doubt is our enemy," U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, said at a Senate hearing Wednesday on what Congress can do to ensure public confidence in this year's election results.

Sometime soon - very soon - Ohio's chief elections officer, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, is going to have to make a decision: Does he make it easier for people with absentee ballots to return them to their county boards of election, or does he make it harder?

Mail-in voting, which tens of millions of Americans are expected to use this November, is fraught with potential problems. Hundreds of thousands of ballots go uncounted each year because people make mistakes, such as forgetting to sign the form or sending it in too late.

Ever since the pandemic struck, state and local election officials across the country have made it clear: To avoid an election disaster in November, they need more money now.

Security outside of the Franklin County Board of Elections on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
Ryan Hitchcock / WOSU

Ohio has more of an idea about what this November’s election will look like, after the Secretary of State handed down a directive to all 88 county boards of elections.

President Trump has made it clear that he does not support allowing all registered voters access to mail ballots this fall, even during a pandemic. But he keeps changing his story about why he's opposed.

Debbie Holmes / WOSU

Voter turnout in Ohio has hovered around 70% in presidential election years, and the Secretary of State predicts turnout will be as high as ever this year. But with lingering concerns about the pandemic, election officials say it's important to get as many Ohioans as possible to vote early.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, overseeing the Election Night Reporting Center, in Columbus, Ohio, calls for the closing of the polls in the Ohio primary election, Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
Gene Puskar / Associated Press

Ohio will send out an absentee ballot request form to every registered voter ahead of November’s election, which the Secretary of State expects to be the biggest in state history.

A bowl of stickers for those taking advantage of early voting, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Steubenville, Ohio.
Gene Puskar / Associated Press

On a party-line vote, an Ohio House committee passed a bill that will make some changes to election law. Backers say it gives more flexibility to election officials should COVID-19 cause changes this November but its opponents have concerns.

Security outside of the Franklin County Board of Elections on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
Ryan Hitchcock / WOSU

Ohio's spring election saw the shuttering of polling places and the extension of absentee voting as COVID-19 spread throughout the state. To avoid confusion before the November election, voting rights groups are asking lawmakers to change voting laws now, but the two groups aren't necessarily on the same page when it comes to making reforms.

Republican state officials who want to expand absentee and mail-in voting during the pandemic have found themselves in an uncomfortable position due to their party's rhetoric.

President Trump has claimed repeatedly, without providing evidence, that mail-in voting is ripe for fraud and bad for the GOP. He and other Republicans have charged that Democrats might use it to "steal" the election.

Just under a quarter of Ohio’s registered voters actually cast ballots in the primary election which ended earlier this week. Low turnout was expected after the original March 17th in person Election Day was canceled because of coronavirus concerns, and absentee voting by mail was extended until this past Tuesday. And there are now calls for change to make it easier to vote this fall.

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